Have you had a chance to see the Keystone Cops comedy routine put on by the Lower Merion School Board last week? If not, click this link and advance to 124:51 on the video counter to view the February 9th School Board meeting.
Apparently, no one on the Board or the Administration has any idea how big the new high schools will be! When asked to answer with more specificity than their mantra that the schools were designed for 1250 students each, they stammered, gave each other the eye, undermined one another’s answers, attempted to distract from the issue ("we can hold classes in the hallway!"), and ultimately concluded that they simply don’t know. And when asked specifically if the schools could each hold 1600 students, they became flip and indignant.
Are they embarrassed that, after authorizing the expenditure of more than a quarter of a BILLION dollars of your money, they don’t know what they bought? Or do they simply not want us to know? Aren’t these the very same people who approved the PlanCon submission to the Pennsylvania Department of Education that requested authorization to construct two high schools, each with a Rated Pupil Capacity of 1820 (1812 for LMHS) and a Full Time Equivalent capacity of 1647 (1640 for LMHS). Read this article for links to the District’s own submissions to the PDE. These numbers are based on the PDE’s own guidelines for educational space requirements. But maybe there’s a reason we need 40% more space than anyone else. Why can’t the Board simply explain why they chose to build the two largest and most expensive public high schools on a per student basis ever build in the United States.
But this is certainly not the only deception you can witness if you take the time to watch this meeting and then independently inform yourself. Take staffing for example. Business manager Scott Shafer tells us that we will be hiring five new custodians and four new aides because the new Harriton is so much larger than the old. It seems we can reassign teachers from one high school to the other, but the half-demolished LMSD is not able to give up any custodians.
Or, how about the budget? Mr. Shafer tells us “we now have our final, major increase in the taxes in 2009-10.” Really, Mr. Shafer? Haven’t we all known since 2006 that the Commonwealth would be assessing a large tax increase in 2012 for unfunded teacher pensions due to a shortfall in that fund? In 2006 Mr. Shafer denied this was something we should consider and plan for before we took on too much debt. Yet on December 16, 2008, Mr. Shafer was quoted by the Inquirer deflecting the Commonwealth’s current plan to triple the amount that School District’s pay into the fund in 2012 as a Harrisburg-created problem. He knew about it then and he knows about it now. So why is Mr. Shafer again hiding this fact by stating at the February 9th meeting that: “Future tax increases after this year become much more normalized and be much lower.” (see 50:51 on the video counter) Could it be that, by then, Mr. Shafer will be enjoying the pension defined in his own employment contract that he authored?
Perhaps it’s the same reason that Mr. Shafer states that “in 2004 the Board incurred $110M of debt to pay for the high schools.” (see 44:11 and 47:55 on the video counter) He chooses his words carefully to make sure he can convince the Board to deny the taxpayers from having the voice that is required by ACT 1. In 2004, the Board voted to incur debt for the new LMHS hoping to take advantage of a loop-hole in the then-proposed ACT 1 language. But they didn’t actually incur any debt, and won’t until this year. Why LMHS and not Harriton? Because it wasn’t until the redistricting question first arose in 2005 that they realized they better build Harriton first before everyone understood it was too large. You can read about how Mr. Shafer then overtaxed us by $20.1M from 2006 to 2008 to avoid the ACT 1 vote for the Harriton debt service at lmsd.info, see Taxation to Eliminate Representation. The point here is he’s doing it again, only this time under a bogus “exception on account of construction” that will never be challenged or enforced as long as the citizens of LM remain paralyzed by apathy.
And so the pattern continues. At the previous, January 26th meeting, when asked about the upcoming PDE hearings to investigate the PlanCon process for both schools, the District solicitor performed the same “slight of hand.” Read the letter to the Board at www.lmsd.info.
At a time when we continue to be promised transparency and accountability, the conduct of the Lower Merion School Board when faced with valid questions from the public continues to be a pathetic display of ineptness, insecurity, and deceit. If you are ready to shed your apathetic crutches, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and learn how you can make a real difference for our community and our children. We need your help, now.
Bill Manginelli, Narberth