As you should know by now, the Lower Merion School District is moving ahead with the construction of a New Harriton High School despite the fact that the bids came in higher than their own not-to-exceed budget. You should also know that the District has overtaxed the citizens by $20.1 Million over the last three years so that it won't have to borrow an amount that would require voter approval. But now we learn another new twist that has resulted in our taxes being higher than necessary.
You may recall that in 2004 the Lower Merion School Board formed a Community Advisory Committee (CAC) to investigate various high school modernization options. The CAC was given cost estimates that led them to believe that renovation would cost the same as new construction. Even so, the CAC qualified its recommendation for two new high schools by stating that it did not rule out the possibility of partial renovation (see page 8 of the CAC report.) Since then the Board has told us that partial renovation is not possible because it would cost more.
But now we learn that, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) new construction typically costs twice that of renovation. We also learn that since 2005 the PDE has been offering extra state reimbursements to school districts that renovate rather than demolish their existing schools. In Friday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Thomas Hylton described a publication that was sponsored by the PDE and the PA School Boards Association. The publication, Renovate or Replace? The Case for Restoring and Reusing Older School Buildings, highlights the many benefits of this fiscally responsible alternative to destroying our current assets based on the ridiculous notion that new buildings equal better education. I urge you to read Hylton's article Lessons in Economy. Also, if you would like to read the PDE publication, click here.
Once again The Lower Merion School Board has chosen to guide us with half truths and lies. Whenever we ask why they are spending so much, they tell us that the problem is unfunded State mandates (obviously, this is double talk; we ask where the money is going and they complain that the state is not covering the cost.) Yet, when we dig just a little we learn:
- that the school board has been increasing our taxes, not to cover education expenses as they had told us, but to stock pile the money to use for construction (an action that takes away our ability to vote on the project. See Taxation to Eliminate Representation
- that renovation is not more expensive, as they have told us. Rather, it is typically half the cost of building new.
- that the CAC did not rule out partial renovation, the Board did.
- that the PDE is encouraging the renovation of existing schools by providing additional reimbursement to do so.
- that the Lower Merion School Board has never mentioned this State funding alternative.
So why is the Board complaining about a lack of State funding, yet turning a blind eye to reimbursements for renovation? Because they want what they want and they have the power to get it. Could it be that this is what the citizens risk when they choose to elect a school board made up of nine parents of public school children? Could it be that the Board has forgotten about the senior citizens, the single adults, those who have chosen not to have children or have been otherwise unable to have children, and those who have chosen to educate their children via one of the excellent education alternatives that our community offers?
There is no doubt that it is time for a change. Happily, several of the current board members, who have children graduating from high school this year and next, have chosen not to run for reelection this year. But the current field of candidates are simply a new crop of public school parents. Perhaps it is time for a school board that is able to represent the entire community. If your ready for a different kind of change, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.