Tuesday, February 9, 2010

School District Budget Numbers Mocked, Misrepresented

An email from fellow Lebo resident John Ewing (a former School Board member who resigned prior to completing his term) landed in my In Box today.  The Subject line read "Klein to Board: 45% Real Estate Tax Increase in Mt. Lebanon by 2015-16 School Year."  I opened the attachment that went with Mr. Ewing's email to find School District budget projections issued by the District's Finance Director, Jan Klein, within the last week along with a nifty bit of editorializing inserted into the projections, to wit:

"Director Fraasch was right - Real Estate Taxes are going up 45.3%
Kubit, Rose, Remely, Cappucci, Posti and Birks are full of prunes !"

I'm certain Ms. Klein, a circumspect individual if there ever was one, did not say anyone was full of prunes.  Mr. Ewing's churlish rejoinder to the budget projections does not serve the serious conversation going on in our community right now around School District budgets and taxes.

A couple of things to consider:

1.  Projections are just that -- a gaze into the future.  In this case, a look into the future seven years from our most recent audited figures.  My experience in 2+ years in Mt. Lebanon is that the annual School District budget projections are a starting point.  Much reconciliation and conversation takes place over a period of months and the final number invariably comes in LOWER than the initial projections.  That's not to say that taxes don't go up -- they do.  But my experience of the process is that they do not go up anywhere near the initial projected figure.

2.  If Ms. Klein, Mr. Fraasch, Mr. Ewing or anyone else in this community has a crystal ball that is telling them what WILL happen in 2015, I want in!  The statement "Director Fraasch was right - Real Estate Taxes are going up 45.3%" is absolutely ridiculous and, in my opinion, only serves to frighten community members.  Do these same folks also know if the Steelers will win the Super Bowl in 2015 based on the current roster? what the Dow Jones Industrial average will be in 2015 based on current economic indicators? if Iraq or Afghanistan will be the greatest threat to global peace in 2015 based on the current quagmires?

Here's hoping we can tamp down the rhetoric on School District matters and continue to work collectively toward positive outcomes.

69 comments:

  1. Elaine,

    Based on the best information you have today, how much do you believe school taxes are likely to increase in the next 5 years? (I'm not asking you to predict the future, just make a statement about the best estimates we have today.)

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  2. Tom, my honest answer is I don't know. Do you?

    Off to get my son to bed, he's waaay past his bedtime in this snow-day week!

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  3. Elaine, you and I both know that the ability to predict tax adjustments based on current expenses and what we KNOW lies ahead is a lot easier than predicting things for which there are no current indicators. If not, then why on earth do you think that Mt. Lebanon asks its finance director to make 5 year projections? I'm sure Ms. Klein has a higher opinion of her work.

    I'm done arguing about this stuff, and I certainly don't agree with Mr. Ewing's editorial remarks, but to equate the educated projections of the district's finance director to a Super Bowl pick isn't much better.

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  4. Elaine,

    I would be surprised if our school taxes were to increase by less than 35 percent or more than 50 percent over the next 5 years.

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  5. Tom,

    Elaine makes an excellent point, Based on the best information that is available What Are Your Projections? and what difference does it make for you, Elaine or John Ewing to be making these projections. What useful purpose does it serve? Especially when you veil your comments as official.

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  6. Rob,

    What useful purpose does forecasting serve? The answer is threefold: forecasting helps us (1) to better understand probable future events, (2) to communicate our beliefs and assumptions about those events, and (3) to make better decisions in the present.

    But perhaps you meant, What useful purpose do citizen-made forecasts serve? And, again, all three reasons from above apply. But in addition there is a fourth reason: Citizen-made forecasts help us to be better citizens.

    They give us a foundation for understanding and interpreting government forecasts. (You understand something better when you’ve done something similar yourself.) That foundation makes us better citizens.

    They give us a means of testing and verifying government forecasts. Holding our government accountable makes us better citizens.

    They give us a way to focus on what’s important. When we compare citizen-made forecasts to government forecasts and parts are in agreement, we can stop worrying about those parts and focus on the remaining differences. Focusing on what’s important makes us better citizens.

    I hope you were not suggesting that citizens have no business holding government to a high standard. If the government makes forecasts, then, I hope you can see why citizens must verify those forecasts using forecasting techniques. What other way is there?

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  7. Tom, once again, we have the difference between theory and practice here. In theory, you may have a point but in practice, there are residents of our community who are ruining citizen engagement for everyone. When Mr. Ewing takes a "2015-16 Forecast" and re-labels it a "2015-16 Budget," creating the assumption that it's already been passed, that is most unfortunate; when Mr. Ewing says Ms. Klein tells the Board taxes will go up "45.3%" when that number (and many others) wasn't even in Ms. Klein's original spreadsheet (nor could she or anyone have even calculated it since some data e.g. gaming revenues won't even be known until the year in question), that's beyond the pale.

    All this type of citizen budgeting and forecasting does is sow the seeds of distrust in our community. Why should anyone even listen to all of these dueling emails with numbers that are being created out of whole cloth and, to my thinking, to fit a particular agenda? I have gotten to the point where I turn a deaf ear to all of this because it's not budgeting or forecasting, it's propagandizing and fear-mongering. What's more, it means that people will likely turn a deaf ear to you, too, no matter how well-meaning your number-crunching may be.

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  8. Elaine,
    Weren't you the one who complained about Big Brother At The School Board?

    Did you discuss posting Mr. Ewing's letter with Mr. Ewing before you made his private letter public?

    If I wrote you a private letter, who would you share it with?

    Looks like Big Brother At The Real Lebo.

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  9. Mr. Huston, you are misinformed -- at the bottom of Mr. Ewing's email, it says "You may distribute this." No expectation of privacy from him whatsoever as he clearly wanted it made public!

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  10. Elaine,

    You wrote, «When Mr. Ewing takes a "2015-16 Forecast" and re-labels it a "2015-16 Budget," creating the assumption that it's already been passed, that is most unfortunate.» Can you show me where Mr. Ewing did this re-labeling? I'm looking at his spreadsheet right now, and the tables are clearly labeled as "Budget Est 02/03/10". Are you suggesting that people will look at figures for 2015–16 in a table labeled as estimates and think they're not estimates?

    Regarding the 45.3% figure, take a look at the preliminary budget forecast, approved at Monday evening's school-board meeting. In the Real Estate Tax row, divide the number in the 2015–16 column by the number in the 2008–09 column. You'll arrive at the figure Mr. Ewing cites: $70.173 million / $48.292 million = 1.453.

    If you're suggesting that these numbers are somehow unusable because they fail to account for things we don't know right now – we do lack that crystal ball – that's going too far. We have to make decisions based on what we know today. If the best figures we have today from the district are these, they are what we have to use.

    Yes, we should take into account likely error. Yes, we should take into account uncertainty. Yes, we should take into account risk.

    But to suggest that it's all "theory," inherently unreliable and dismissible, ignores the reality that we must make our decisions about the future today.

    I agree that the "prunes" language is unfortunate, but it doesn't make the numbers that go with it dismissible.

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  11. Elaine,
    You did not mention that in your original post.
    Thank you for enlightening me.

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  12. Tom,

    Thank you for your comments. In no way was I suggesting that private citizen do not have the right to question their gov't. It Is our right and duty to do just that.

    However, Elaine once again has made several excellent points, especially when citizen forecasting is done not to inform but to misinform and create fear instead of enlighten.

    Once Again, Tom, Thank You.

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  13. Rob,

    What evidence can you offer to support your implied claim that Mr. Ewing's (or Mr. Fraasch's) sharing of information was done "to misinform and create fear"?

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  14. One side question: Why is Mt. Lebanon required to publish a preliminary budget this early? I have not heard of other school districts doing the same. Ms. Klein does preface her numbers with the caution that so many numbers are truly unknown to much certainty. That caution is what is missing from so much of the discussion. Yes, we need to be aware of the worst-case scenario - I do not dispute that - but I cannot condone the statements that "This WILL happen!"

    But back on topic: I do recall last year's numbers being frightening without the additional stresses involved this year, projecting a 1.5 mill increase. The final budget required .3 mills, I think. We all know that higher taxes are coming, and yes, from directions other than the local quarter as well. My husband and I have been considering looking for a home closer to the center of town with that extra room that we would so appreciate. That search may or may not take place due to the financial implications. But, I also do not want the modest home we now own to be in a school district that is not forward-thinking as well as fiscally responsible. Such a large proportion of our property taxes do go to the schools, of which we should be as proud and supportive of as the other assets our community provides.

    We all need to question our elected representatives at every turn, while also giving them our trust and support. The respect is what is missing from so much of the discussion of late. We all need to watch our language - let's keep the phrasing rational and intelligent. I trust that the board will treat us the same in return.

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  15. January 28, 2010
    (110 days prior to primary election)
    School district deadline to make 2010-2011 proposed preliminary budget available
    for public inspection or adopt resolution pursuant to Section 311(d)(1) indicating
    that it will not raise the rate of any tax by more than its index.
    Section 311(c);
    311(d)(1)

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  16. The Subject line read "Klein to Board: 45% Real Estate Tax Increase in Mt. Lebanon by 2015-16 School Year."

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  17. Rob,

    Three quick questions.

    1. Did Mrs. Klein not present to the school board a new preliminary budget forecast, which the board approved at Monday night's discussion meeting?

    2. According to that forecast, how much are our district's real-estate taxes estimated to increase between 2008–09 and 2015–16?

    3. In light of your answers to the first two questions, what evidence can you offer that Mr. Ewing's chose the subject line of his email with the intent "to misinform and create fear"?

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  18. All I can say is that anyone attempting to mislead the public by falsely impersonating another person does not deserve the time and consideration of anyone. Personally, I do not believe Mr. Ewing when he says he did not intend to mislead. The subject line of the email says it all. Shame on you, Mr. Ewing. Your plan has backfired, casting even further doubt on Mr. Fraasch's case. Desperate measures do not tend to garner positive results. You lose. Nice try.

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  19. Tom,

    Furthermore, the forwarded email that I originally received was from a well known TV personality that was under the complete impression that the email was from Jan Klein. So Yes, Mr. Ewing's email did create misinformation which only creates more anxiety and fear.

    Middle Ground needs to be achieved Not Divison. As this project continues to move forward, I urge you and your readers to find constructive ways to help lower costs in the form of grants of P/P Partnerships.

    Thank you, Tom.

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  20. Who falsely impersonated another person?
    Elaine wrote in the first sentence she knew it was from John Ewing.
    No, Ms. Linfante, you lose.

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  21. Tom, you're starting to sound like Perry Mason. ;-)

    A conversation (as opposed to an interrogation) will feel more inclusive to community members (or so they are telling me).

    Thanks to everyone for engaging in this dialogue.

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  22. Trust me, I get annoyed with Mr. Ewing as often anyone (I'm still trying to figure out how he got my email addrees). However, I'm amused by the fact that no one has offered any objection to the fact that he is merely sighting the numbers offered by Ms. Klein. Just like Mr. Fraasch did. Is Ms. Klein trying to mislead or scare us? If so, shouldn't your beef be with her and not the two people that are sharing her projections with the community.

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  23. I don't see the Fraasch/Ewing projections as being the same as Ms. Klein's. I am more than comfortable with the FAQ that Mr. Kubit put onto the district website explaining the real facts. I am also more than comfortable with the school board's intention to keep costs as low as possible. Does anyone really think that they wish to spend a dime more than they have to?

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  24. Elaine,

    Thanks for your feedback.

    My goal isn't to be Mason-esque but to be clear. My motivation becomes apparent when you realize that this entire discussion stems from a misunderstanding.

    Re-reading your article, I note that you believe that Mr. Ewing had forwarded "School District budget projections issued by the District's Finance Director, Jan Klein," and that he had inserted his "nifty bit of editorializing" into these projections. That is not what happened. On this, you are dead wrong.

    What you received was not Mrs. Klein's but Mr. Ewing's analysis, which he provided to show how he had arrived at the claim made in his email's subject line. That is, he was showing his work, which anybody could verify by comparing it with Mrs. Klein's preliminary budget forecast, which the board approved at Monday night's discussion meeting.

    There is no credible evidence that Mr. Ewing tried to pass off his analysis as Mrs. Klein's, or that he sent his email or chose its subject line with the intent "to misinform and create fear."

    What I am trying to get you, Kristen, and Mr. Papke to consider is that this evidence of ill intent simply does not exist. I am challenging you to present it anyway because that's how we move the conversation forward. Maybe I'm wrong and you do have the evidence. By presenting it, you'll allow me to see something I have missed, and I'll be enlightened. But if I'm right, you'll have a hard time presenting the evidence (try answering my Perry Mason questions), and maybe you'll be enlightened. Either way, we all move forward.

    Like you, I hope "we can tamp down the rhetoric." That's why I'm issuing you this challenge. I don't think you realize that you are not tamping down but ratcheting up the rhetoric. You, Kristen, and Mr. Papke just accused another person of not merely being mistaken but of having ill intent. How is attacking a person's character tamping down the rhetoric?

    We need to be able to disagree with other people without assuming that those people are somehow in the service of evil. Let's keep the focus on the evidence, not the people who would offer it.

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  25. I stand by my original blog post and my words.

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  26. Elaine,

    I understand that you stand by your words. What I'm wondering is if you can present the evidence to support them. Can you answer my three questions, please?

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  27. Tom, please -- I feel as if you're badgering me! I am in the middle of my work day with deadlines and cannot stop everything to answer your three questions.

    I posted my thoughts at the start of the thread and have chimed in on this thread with one or two other posts. That is all I have to say for now and it will have to suffice. Perhaps someone with more time can answer your three questions.

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  28. Tom,

    With all due respect, what makes your "projected numbers" any more valid than someone elses? Take a look at Mr. Kubits FAQ's and tell me exactly why his points are not valid. There are a lot of variables in play here and none of us can know exactly how it will play out. We don't know how much the renovation is going to cost. Period. We have a cap - that's all. I am cutting and pasting a portion of a public email from Rob Gardner who most eloquently states his very rational position. I agree with him 100 %.

    Rob's quote:

    But make no mistake: YOUR TAXES ARE GOING UP. Pension issues and base budget increases will cause a major tax increase (unless the legislature steps in) no matter where you live in Pennsylvania: Erie, Scranton, Bucks County, Peters, KO, Bedford. Many neighboring communities are also handling tax increases due to debt service for recent projects. To escape it, you'll have to move to West Virginia.

    So let's look at the High School. If our options were to do something or to do nothing, I'd say let's do nothing. Let's save for the day when we don't have to borrow so much. But that can has been kicked down the road SO far that we're at a point where we can't do nothing. We have to do something. At long last.

    The current project is projected at $113 million. On a $200,000 home (avg in MtL) that works out to $57 per month.

    But let's say we didn't do that. Let's say we fix only what we need to fix (asbestos abatement, roof, windows, HVAC, etc), as you seem to want to do. The lowest projection I've seen for that is $73 million (I've seen as high as $103, but let's forget that). This reduction in project scope comes to $37 per month on a $200,000 home. We've saved $20 per month. Not bad. BUT we've invested in a structure that will probably need to be updated again in 20 years vs 30-50 years (further kicking of the can down the road!). We haven't stayed relevant in relation to our neighboring communities. And we risk further frittering away of a very favorable construction environment (FYI: Asbestos abatement bids have come in as low as -28% below current budget, and LEED certification services are coming in closer to -40% lower!).

    For me, the $20 per month delta between doing what we must do and what we should do is well worth it. Period. IT IS TIME TO MOVE FORWARD WITH THIS PROJECT. I applaud the board's hard work and courage in moving it forward."

    End of Rob's e-mail quote

    Tom, "perception is reality". It is not about answering your 3 questions. It is about how each person interprets any given information. I respect your perception, although it is not part of my reality.

    I urge you to stop challenging me, Elaine, and Rob. I can assure you that you will not be successful in changing our minds. I am fairly confident that I won't change yours either. I'm ok with that. Thank goodness it's a free country!

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  29. There seems to be a fundamental point that everyone keeps missing. We had an election a few months ago, where four people were elected to the school board. Two of them are returning incumbents. Of the four, three of them were very open about their desire to renovate the high school. The only person who lost in his bid for re-election, did so after changing his stance on the high school renovation. I call this a referendum on the high school renovation. The voters apparently were pleased that this project will move forward. The people have spoken. Continuing the rhetoric about percentages of possible tax increases or funding statements at this stage is silly. What purpose does it serve? I trust those board members who have stated that they will continue to be fiscally prudent and watch every penny. I absolutely trust Jan Klein who has given us fiscal excellence and integrity that very few school districts in the United States enjoy. The continued hysteria whipped up a handful, does nothing except to make a few minor players feel important. Our school board is made up, for the most part, of intelligent, caring people who will do the right thing for our community. We have one board member who insists on acting like a four year old having a tantrum, because he is not getting his way. Adults do not cater to misbehaving children. I trust the adults in charge.

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  30. At the risk of injecting myself, I don't think you guys are saying different things. Take Mr. Ewing's editorial remarks etc out of the equation and as I see it, here's what were left with:

    (a) Ms. Klein's published budget forecast for 2015-16 shows a possible increase of 45.3% over this year.

    (b) Mr. Gardner's statement that our taxes will go up.

    (c) Mr. Kubit's statement that our taxes will NOT go up 50%.

    (d) I think we can all agree that 45.3 is less than 50.

    (e) I think we can all agree that we would prefer that our taxes go up as little as possible.

    So, based upon (a)-(e), I think Tom is simply asking the question: Is a potential 43.5% tax increase too much for some (or many) to grapple with right now? And if so, how do we drive that number down in the face of rising or fixed costs and while taking on this big construction project?

    I'm on record as saying that I'm not leaving town regardless of what happens, so I'm just hoping for the best possible outcome. It's the only thing I have the energy left to do. However, I'd be curious as to what other think.

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  31. Tom, (or do I need to start addressing you as Mr. Moertel?)

    The information below is from a forwarded email that I received, attached to it was John Ewing's email. It is the FULL email(minus John's attachment) I've only ommitted who sent it, other than he is a well known resident and works at a local TV station and who the recipient was. He received John Ewing's email and was thought that it was from Jan Klein. Hence my comments concerning misinformation/confusion.

    The Email Reads:

    I just saw this attached MTLSD document from Finance Director Jan Klein that seems to suggest that School Board member James Fraasch is right. Citizens in Mt. Lebanon have every reason to worry that property taxes are going up 45% over the next five years. As you know and we’ve discussed, most residents simply cannot afford that kind of tax increase, especially those on fixed incomes and the many who have seen no pay raises.



    As someone who is looking for that middle ground – necessary renovations at the High School but well below $113 million in order to keep tax increases in the single digits – I would welcome your analysis of Ms. Klein’s numbers. I could be missing something here. Unfortunately, some folks (not you, necessarily) took to ridiculing Mr. Fraasch when it appears he may have been right all along.

    End of Email.

    Also, you Demand that I answer Your 3 questions. Except when I have asked you twice to find ways to help lower costs on the project you have ignored me. You seem like a person of many talents perhaps you could apply those talents to a more constuctive endeavor? or challenge your reader to do find a way to lower costs.

    Good Day, Mr. Moertel.

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  32. Kristen,

    I'm not questioning your beliefs about the high school renovation. I'm challenging you to support your public claims about Mr. Ewing.

    You wrote that Mr. Ewing attempted "to mislead the public." Where is the evidence that Mr. Ewing was even wrong about the preliminary forecast, let alone "attempting to mislead the public" about it? Where did Mr. Ewing represent the estimated increase in real-estate taxes as anything other than what Mrs. Klein presented to the board in the now-approved preliminary budget forecast? (If you look at Mrs. Klein's forecast and do the math, you'll arrive at 45.3 percent, just like Mr. Ewing said.)

    You wrote that Mr. Ewing was "falsely impersonating another person." Where is the evidence that Mr. Ewing represented his work as anything other than his own?

    Further, you can't hide behind the notion that "perception is reality." You didn't merely perceive that Mr. Ewing was "attempting to mislead the public." You claimed it. In a public forum.

    You made your claims. Can you support them?

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  33. Tom, Mr. Ewing, or anyone else that can do the math,
    I have never been a numbers person. You know, left brain vs. right brain. Would you be able to show the calculations using Ms. Klein's now approved preliminary budget forecast? I never receive any of the emails that "are going around" and rely on the various Mt. Lebanon blogs and websites for information. It might help people like me, who are in awe of number crunchers.
    Elaine Gillen

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  34. Ms. Gillen, I'd like to suggest that you attend School Board meetings, where forecasts and budgets are discussed by Jan Klein, the District's point person on these matters. She also answers questions from the Board on same. Alternatively, the meetings are televised. Further, the Board's Audit and Finance Committee meetings are also open to the public. I attend a LOT of meetings and get much good information from them.

    There is a lot of armchair quarterbacking going on in our community right now and extrapolating of incomplete numbers for forecasts that are seven years out from our last audited figures. These worse-case scenarios tend to create unnecessary fear and are simply not grounded in reality.

    Ms. Gillen, I know you are a frequent contributor at other local blogs. Surely, you can reach out to Mr. Moertel and Mr. Ewing for their analyses in private and/or elsewhere and do not need to post your request at this blog. It's akin to sending an email with a loaded question to one person and cc'ing a hundred others. It makes one wonder if you really want the question answered or if the point isn't to rattle the masses.

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  35. Ms. Labalme,
    Ms. Gillen simply requested the information.
    I did not attend the meeting on 08-FEB-2010 because the same school district closed the buildings for the day.
    Why do you continue to question the motives of folks who ask legitimate questions?
    I would like to see the same approved preliminary budget forecast.
    David Huston

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  36. Ms. Labalme,
    At the risk of being snipped, I truly don't know how these figures are being arrived. I am very bad at math and as I said in my original comment, I do not have email addresses to ask for an analysis. I work on Monday nights and watching on TV doesn't give me the opportunity for interaction. I guess I am the only one in the township that can't do the math. I am not an accountant, so when I hear numbers, it sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher talking, "Wah, Wah, wah." Sorry if I ruffled your feathers. I didn't mean to.
    Elaine Gillen

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  37. Thanks, James. I couldn't have said it better.

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  38. I posted a similar comment yesterday that I think might have been "snipped" so I'll try again:

    Rather than debating our differences, let's pull back a second and take a look at what we all can AGREE on:

    1. Ms. Klein's budget projections for 2015-16 reflect a *possible* 45.3% tax increase over this year. (Source: Mt. Lebanon Finance Committee Meeting, Jan 28)

    2. Ms Klein is a valuable asset to Mt. Lebanon and does her job very well (Source: Rob Papke and others)

    3. Our taxes will not increase by 50% by 2015-16 (Source: Board Pres. Ed Kubit, www.mtlsd.org)

    4. 45.3 is less than 50 (Source: Sesame Street)

    So from where I sit, the question becomes rather simple - IF the projected tax increase of 45.3% becomes a reality (or let's even say 40%), what happens to our community? Nothing? Partial upheaval? Anarchy? How upset will you be, if at all?

    I've already stated that I'm staying, but that's because in my situation the personal/family forces outweigh the economic forces (plus, I loath moving). How about you?

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  39. Ms. Klein's forecast was posted on the School District web site on Monday. It is public information.

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  40. Folks,my apologies if some comments were moderated out of order -- they landed in a different folder! Ah, technology. ;-) As of right now, all comments on this and other threads have been moderated.

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  41. Mr. Franklin, I'm with you -- I'm committed to this community.

    Ms. Gillen, my feathers aren't ruffled. Question: have you considered phoning Ms. Klein? I'm serious. She is smart, nice and running point on these numbers and if you tell her that math is not your strong suit, I'd venture she'd be happy to help you. She is, after all, the official number cruncher for the School District.

    We should all be asking questions but I really like the idea of asking a trusted source and the keeper of the data, especially when it's someone with the experience and chops of Ms. Klein. There are no bad questions -- isn't that what every good mother tells her kids? And we're all good mothers here in Mt. Lebanon, aren't we? ;-)

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  42. Ms. Gillen,

    Absolutely, I'd be delighted to work through the math. I suspect you're not the only person curious about the calculations. Ready? Let's go!

    First, grab the school district's approved preliminary budget forecast. You may want to print it out.

    Take a look at the REVENUES section of the forecast, the Real Estate Tax line, in particular. This line shows the real-estate taxes the district has collected (for past years) or forecasts to collect (for coming years). What we want to do is compare the taxes in this line for different years to see how much they go up or down. To recreate Mr. Ewing's analysis, for example, we want to compare the 2008–09 taxes to the forecasted 2015–06 taxes. Let's do that next.

    Look up the 2008–09 real-estate taxes. It's on the Real Estate Tax line under the 2008–09 heading: $48,291,589. For simplicity, let's just round it to $48.3 million.

    Now look up the forecasted 2015–16 real-estate taxes: $70,172,709. Again, for simplicity, let's round it to $70.2 million.

    Here's the fun part! Now we get to calculate how many times the 2008–09 figure goes into the 2015–16 figure. That will tell us how big the latter is compared to the former. Just divide the 2015–16 figure by the 2008–09 figure:

    $70.2 million / $48.3 million = 1.453

    That means the 2015–16 figure is 1.453 times the 2008–09 figure: it's 0.453 times larger. Expressed as a percentage, 0.453 is 45.3%.

    And that's where the 45.3% figure comes from. :-)

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  43. Last week a 20 pound chunk of cement fell from the Little Theater (ceiling?) onto the dance floor below.
    For any of you Doubting Thomas' or Chicken Little's out there, The Sky IS Falling.
    No one was hurt, this time.

    Luckily, their hasn't been any water main breaks this year. However, when there is a break such as the huge break last year, You & I pay for the repairs. And not just the repairs on the pipes but the replacement costs on anything else that is damaged.

    Yes, Mr. Tom Moertel. I know that you are advocating fixing the building to make it safe. But the cost difference of what you want and what the majority of residents want is about $20/month.
    Mr. Tom Moertel, Why not use your talents to help find ways to lower the costs instead of fighting what has been an open and transparent process that continues to move forward?

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  44. Rob (Papke),

    First, please call me Tom. The only reason I referred to you as Mr. Papke is because Kristen introduced Rob Garner to the conversation by quoting him, and I wanted to be clear about which Rob was which.

    Second, I understand that some people were confused by Mr. Ewing's email. (The person who forwarded it to you apparently was.) I understand that for some people, the email may even have "created fear." What I questioned, however, were the claims that Mr. Ewing crafted his email specifically for this effect – "to misinform and create fear." It's one thing to say an email was confusing but another thing to say a person acted deliberately with ill intent. That's why I asked my three questions: to help you see that there are explanations for Mr. Ewing's email besides ill intent.

    Third, you claim that I have ignored your requests to look for ways to lower costs on the project. What reason do you have for making this claim? Do you believe it beyond a person's ability to both question costs and work to lower them at the same time?

    Cheers,
    Tom

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  45. I've asked certain school board members directly how we're going to cut $10-20 million off of the estimates, and their responses have been pretty consistent . . . they don't know.

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  46. Tom, as I had said on Blog Lebo, thank you for taking the time to explain your calculations. And I understand why you called me Ms. Gillen. Too many Elaine's to keep it all straight.
    Elaine Gillen

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  47. Tom,

    The reason for making the claim that you have ignored my requests to look for ways to lower the costs on the projects is because you have addressed all of my other comments except for my requests to find ways to help lower costs until now.

    Does this mean that you will use your considerable influence within the community to find ways to lower costs, such as finding Grant Money for the project? I would hope so and encourage you to do so.

    We can argue semantics's all day long but in the end there has been a transparent process in place that has allowed citizens to speak and to be heard. The School Board has voted accordingly and the project continues to move forward.

    A friend just related a story to me that I feel is relevant to all of this: A third grade teacher's asked her class to describe what "War" is and they did, if full graphic detail. Then the teacher asked them to describe "Peace" and the class fell silent.

    There seems to be lot of back and forth about he said, she said...and to what useful purpose doers it serve? Case in point: Last evening, A MtL official told me the story of the 20 pound chunk cement falling from the Little Theater ceiling. Well shame on me for not waiting for the verification from the district before I posted it because as it turns out it was some flaking that fell into a closet. Granted it does show that things are not good at the HS but it also illustrates how twisted stories can become.

    The email that many of us received was not signed by John Ewing and it took awhile for a SB member to track down who had sent it out. Confusion can lead to misinformation which creates fear. Why wasn't it signed, beats me but that creates suspicion as to what his motive was (and I know that you'll have a paragraph or two to write about that comment!).

    At the Jan. 18th meeting, many that spoke in opposition to the project got up and left the meeting before the SB could address their misconceptions surrounding the project. A segment of the population with wrong information accepting it as truth.

    When my pleas to you for help in finding ways to help lower costs went unanswered, yes I questioned Your ability and willingness. After all, War is easier than Peace...or is it? I would like to think that it is the other way around and hope that you do as well. I look forward to your solutions, Tom and to your willingness to engage your readers in helping to find ways to help lower costs such as Grant Writing and P/P Partnerships.

    Enjoy your week-end, Tom.

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  48. Rob, your claim that the cost difference between renovation and the $113 million plan is only $20 per month. This is not accurate. The $103 million renovation cost, which the board continues to use, has NOT been adjusted by the 17-25% cost savings that they say we should see on bids, based on what other districts have seen. If adjusted, the renovation would be $77-85 million.
    Joe Wertheim

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  49. Following your logic, Joe, shouldn't we then call the more complete renovation the $95 million project? Isn't is still a difference of $20 per month, plus or minus?

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  50. Elaine, PJ Dick, the construction manager has said that they have taken these lower bids into consideration. The board "hopes" that they can reduce the cost, but $113 million estimate has already been factored in by PJ Dick. The current comparison, if done apples-to-apples would be $113 million to $77-85 million.
    Joe Wertheim

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  51. School Board members aren't simply "hoping" they can reduce costs on this project, they are working hard, very hard, in the service of that objective and have already identified areas that will accrue savings. I, for one, appreciate the hard work and dedication of our School Board members, especially Dan Remely and Elaine Cappucci, who are running point on this project.

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  52. Ladies:
    If you'd would be so kind, I'd like to explain my position on the project.
    Unlike Rob P. its not about whether it'll will impact my tax bill by $20, $30, or $50 a month.
    To me its what will the expenditures get us.
    The difference between the $103MM renovation and $113MM Celli design is $10MM dollars.
    At $100,000 per teacher per year that $10MM would give us approx. 10 more teachers for 10 years.
    No more 27 student classes for Jefferson parents to deal with
    Or that $10MM would purchase 10,000 Macintosh laptop computers at $1,000 each!
    That $1,000,000 bridge across Horsman Drive, that does very little to enhance the curriculum would probably buy all the paper, brushes, clay, ink etc. the fine arts dept. will need for the next 10-20 years.
    Moving tennis courts, that seem to work pretty well at a costs of what $700,000 might finance all the lab equipment the science could possibly wish for- for some time.
    Its not the $20 impact on a $100,000 home. Its what does each dollar spent do to improve our kids education.
    Thanks for letting me explain my position.
    Dean Spahr

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  53. Thanks for your comments, Dean. I hear you. I do have faith in the process though. Countless hours have been spent consulting with our teachers, staff, etc. in order to be sure that they have what they feel they need to move forward in order to provide the best education possible for our kids. This design didn't happen in a vacuum by any means. I too want to be sure that we not only have a school but the tools to teach in that school. I believe that has been taken into account. The trust the process. I also feel that the longer we hold off on the big renovation, the costlier it will be in the long run.

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  54. Elaine, they have identified areas that MAY accrue savings. Even Mrs. Posti says "the work the Board is doing now to potentially reduce the total cost..." While the baord continues to work with a "budget" of $113 million, whether or not they are able to trim costs will not really be known until the project is finished. Until then it remains a HOPE.
    Joe Wertheim

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  55. Joe, I'm a hopeful kinda gal. ;-) Thanks for your comments.

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  56. Kristen:
    Unfortunately, I don't share your faith in the process.
    The most expensive piece of the Celli design is not a science lab, planeterium, auditorium, or fine arts studio.
    It's a bridge, a $300+/sq. ft. bridge thats primary purpose is to link two buildings to circumvent building codes.
    This thread started off with comments regarding crystal balls and projections. I don't know what the future will hold, Technology and/or education could change dramatically in the next 5, 10 years. James posted an excellent video on the subject some months ago.
    Bet the farm on one project and the district could be financially ill prepared to adapt to that future.
    It also seems to me in light of the comments made by neighboring superintendents, envious of our districts success, our home values are safe for some time. I believe you settled in Mt. Lebanon despite the neglected HS.
    This also isn't the time. There are, and it doesn't matter if its one child, or many, whose families are in tough financial straits.
    Maybe its their own fault, perhaps not.
    There are many seniors, that paid for this "premier" school system for 30-40 years, now on limited budgets due to stock and investment losses.
    Do we now say thanks for all you've done, now get out of the way. We want our Taj Mahal and we want it now!
    Or do we proceed as Fraasch suggest, fixing/upgrading what we must and saving for the things we want?
    In the DeJong session, the majority attendee opinion was to embark on a project in the $65-85 million dollar range. I believe that is still the wish of the community.
    Dean Spahr

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  57. Joe,

    Perhaps those cost savings don't apply to our school building for the simply reason that USC, BP & Baldwin did not have asbestos to abate, they did not re-do their cafeterias and they did not include the cost of their auditoriums into their initial plans. But sir, please do not take my word for this. Instead email our school board directors and ask them for yourself and then perhaps you would like to share what you have found with us here at Real Lebo or for that matter at Tom's blog site.

    Dean,

    Please contact your commissioners to ask them why the bridge is needed, but I'll give you a clue...Zoning Ordinances...You are correct that it does nothing to enhance curriculum however the architects and the school board directors have repeatedly addressed this point as well as other issue regarding land usage and terrain (i.e. the tennis courts).

    Thank you for joining our conversation, gentleman.

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  58. The video I referred to on James' blog was posted 11/8/09 under the title "Did You Know?"
    Interesting for anyone that believes they have the inside track on what the 21st century will look like in 5, 10, 20 years.
    Dean Spahr

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  59. Dean,

    With all due respect, to call this project "Our Taj Mahal" is totally inaccurate and ignores reality. There were options 1a & 1b, 2, 3 & 4. Options 3 & 4 were rejected by both the residents and the School Board Directors as being to expensive. 1a & 1b were also rejected because they were inadequate. Option 2 was chosen by the residents & SB because it fit our students needs and was fiscally more responsible. Since those meetings the SB, architects and PJ Dick have worked together to lower the costs even further. So to refer is Option 2 as Our Taj Mahal is ignoring an entire process and creates misunderstanding.

    Tom,

    When working your numbers for Elaine G. did you figure a tax increase by comparing audited numbers from 2008 to forecasted numbers in future years. This seems like it would be the correct way, but it's not a fair calculation. Why? Has to do with the difference in the actual numbers and forecasted numbers, like what funds Ms. Klein has included in each - such as gaming funds.
    Perhaps you should contact Ms. Klein, Tom. I'm not a financial whiz like you seem to be however Ms. Klein does this as her profession and I'm sure that she would be more than glad to help you understand this matter more accurately.

    Thank you, gentleman.

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  60. Rob:
    Thank you for confirming the rational behind the bridge! Wonder why we have zoning ordinances?
    On land usage and terrain.. seems to me the HS on its current footprint has served the community very well, in academics and athletics.
    When other supertintedents envy and hold up Mt. Lebanon (with its dilapidated HS) next to USC with their "new" HS) seems to me the terrain just isn't all that important.
    Dean Spahr

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  61. Rob:
    Now you want to discuss symantics? Codes, ordinances, Taj Mahal, project... TOMATO TOMAHTOE!
    We're dealing with the most expensive HS project in our region by far! Don't want me to call it our Taj Mahal, fine I refrain.
    But I ask you too-- to not mislead.
    The board, Celli & Dick have yet to lower cost on anything! They "hope" to lower cost!
    Right now, they're asking for $113.2 million.
    Under the rules of Act 34 they can exceed that number by up to 8%, or another $9 million without a referendum. Thats a total potential project cost of $122.2 million.
    As a history lesson, the elementary renovations were projected to cost $45 million (including a HS pool). When it was all said and done... it went to $54 million... and no pool.
    Dean Spahr

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  62. Dean,

    Originally Option #2 , the project that taxpayer voiced their overwhelming approval for last summer and the SB voted to approve (by I believe a margin of 8-1 or it could have been a 7-2 vote) has come down in costs. If you don't trust me and apparently you don't please contact the SB yourself, it is very easy to do...And by the way it was YOU that brought up the Bridge and used the term "Taj Mahal". I was merely correcting your errors, sir. So don't go all tomato(e) on me.

    Thank you.

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  63. Dean,

    Furthermore, what is repeatedly ignored by the opposition to this project and something that I have repeatedly commented on is that USC, BP & Baldwin DID NOT HAVE TO ABATE ASBESTOS, they DID NOT RE-DO THEIR CAFETERIAS and THEY DID NOT RE-DO THEIR AUDOTORIUMS.

    Ignoring reality does no one any good, Dean.
    It is these items that are driving up the costs to OUR project. If you do not believe me contact the SB for yourself, sir.

    And as far as the elementary school projects go, the price of steel jumped 500% overnight. And this reality further drives home the need to do this project NOW while there are economic opportunities to be taken advantage of.

    Thank You.

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  64. Rob, I've not met anyone in Mt. Lebanon who is AGAINST the Project. I have met plenty who are against the $113 million price tag. I am extremely concerned by those who believe that the SB will be able to take the studied, professional estimates of our hired experts and cut them by $15-20 million. Regardless of timing and the cost of materials, if the strong advocates of this project believe this is an easy task, you may all have lucrative careers as owner's reps. I won't make many promises about this project, but I'm comfortable promising you this - getting this job (as currently proposed) down to the $90 million figure that everyone is tossing around will be very, very difficult.

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  65. Rob:
    The tomatoes comment was about whether we called them zoning codes or ordinances, and Taj Mahal or HS project.
    It doesn't matter to me what we call either.
    The fact is the bridge is in the design, you and I both agree that it does nothing to enhance the education of our students.
    I'm curious what is the point on the abatemnet facts on the other district projects?
    My point is the budget estimate by our district for the Act 34 Hearing is $113 million! I'm not ignoring reality, thats the fact-- $113 million is their estimate, not mine!
    And it can go to $122 million without a referendum.
    On you other comment... you say "the price of steel jumped 500% overnight" on the elementary projects.
    Are you guaranteeing the price of steel won't jump 500% on this project? According to RSMeans the FEDS are ready to impose tariffs on imported steel to go into affect by the 2nd half of 2010. They state all bets are off on the price of steel before the end of the year! They predict building materials in general will rise by 4-6% by next year. SO unless we're going to buy everything needed for the building now and warehouse it (which cost money) the bottom line estimates don't appear to be achieveable from what I'm reading.
    One other question: when did this taxpayer opinion poll on Option 2 take place? Did I miss it? The polls I read seemed to suggest the majority of respondents didn't want to spend over $100 million.
    Dean Spahr

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  66. Dean~

    By referring to the HS Building project a Taj Mahal suggests that we have chosen the most expensive option when we clearly have not.

    You are comparing our project to other school district's projects and their costs to our costs. They did not have asbestos to abate and we do. Thus the asbestos abatement is driving the cost of our project. The comparison is yours Dean and I am merely trying to open your eyes to reality.

    Apparently you must have missed it Dean because in the summer of 2009 there were a few open forums at the HS auditorium where the residents were presented with options 1a,1b,2,3,& 4. And judging from your comments this is not all that you have missed.

    Again, Don't take my word. Contact the board for yourself or attend an Architect's Meeting.

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  67. I believe Mr. Remely recommended pre-purchasing product for the high school renovation at the last School Board meeting in January. Lots of good information to be gleaned by attending School Board meetings, often better quality information than that which circulates around the water cooler or the local coffee house. ;-)

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  68. Rob:
    Its clear that further discussion here is useless.
    I never compared our project costs to other costs directly!
    WHAT I did say ours right now is estimated to be the most expensive in the area. Is that true or not, is it the most expensive??? If not then I apologize for my error. Furthermore Act 34 is called The Taj Mahal Act by name so I see that as justificationn for my reference.
    Yes I was present when all the options were presented. Guess I was distracted, because I don't recall a resident vote or survey. If I missed it, please post the official results here, and I'll admit to my error.
    Elaine, Mr. Remely did indeed suggest pre-purchasing, but include the rest of his comment. He didn't know if it was possible or what the financial implications would be in warehousing the materials. He questioned if there would even be savings!
    Thanks, its been enlightening visit!
    Dean Spahr

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  69. Seems like we're going round and round so I'll go ahead and snip this thread at almost 70 comments. Thanks to all for contributing. Lots of other good threads to comment on, including several with a call for volunteers!

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