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Rather than redistricting, the taxpayers of Lower Merion should be worrying about what we are going to do with all the wasted space we are constructing. For years, the Lower Merion School Board has insisted that the two new high schools are each properly sized for 1,250 children. But this is simply not true. Based the Pennsylvania Department of Education's own standards, each school has a Rated Pupil Capacity of over 1,800. It is well known that the way to get around the Act 34 vote trigger is to adjust the school size up. While this sounds nonsensical, it is true. And, this is what they did!
In simple terms, it works this way. The Act creates a spending limit based on the school capacity. If you’re over the limit, you must put the plan to a voter referendum. The School Board made sure it would avoid a vote by writing periodic Act 34 tests into the architects’ contracts. By running the calculation early, you can adjust the design to avoid the act. How?
The spending limit typically gets tripped by the cost of high-end common space and excessive administration areas, areas for which you get no Act 34 credits. Anyone who is familiar with our district knows that we have far too many administrators. By adding cheap square footage in the form of more classrooms, you dilute the cost per unit school capacity. So, school capacity goes up, the allowable Act 34 spending figure goes up proportionately, but the cost of the school does not go up proportionately because the cost of adding a classroom is cheap. So you get more Act 34 spending credit than the cost incurred. This helps offset the excessive costs in the rest of the design. Eventually, you reach a point where you no longer exceed the Act 34 spending limit.
The act was written to avoid this by requiring school capacity to be supported by enrollment. But over the years, the PDE has chosen not to enforce this part of the act. If you look at the District’s PlanCon D and PlanCon F submissions to the PDE, you will see that each school has a Rated Pupil Capacity in excess of 1,800 students, a combined total of 3,632. So we are actually building the equivalent of three 1,200-student schools! For a summary of the Harriton PlanCon F, Download Harriton_Capacity_Calculation_12-02-08. For a summary of the LMHS PlanCon F, Download LMHS_Capacity_Calculation_12-03-08.
BRSL is currently appealing the PDE PlanCon F approvals and hearings are scheduled for January. But without more support from the community, this complaint may have to be dropped.
If you are still wondering if this is true, take a look at the design presentations made by the District over the past two years. You will see that the size of the schools grew over 13% during the deign process.
If you would like to see exactly what LMS submitted to the PDE: For Harriton: Download PlanCon F for Harriton with Notes as Approved by PDE 06 19 07. For Lower Merion: Download PlanCon F for LMHS as approved by PDE on 12 12 07 and then Download PlanCon F for LMHS as approved by PDE on 4 22 08. For each, take a look at page F13, Comparative Design Analysis to see how they quantify and justify the 40+% excessive square footage.
The fact the Lower Merion School Board built Harriton as large as they did when the location is so remote from the population base is simply a violation of the public trust and should not be allowed. Remember that the community outcry at the Act 34 Hearing for Harriton was overwhelmingly against it. Click Here Yet the Board built it anyway.
If you are passionate about stopping this before it gets worse, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.