Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Disappearing act

Last night’s meeting was a marathon session lasting over 3 hours. There were some important updates on the Tawanka program and also the high school renovation project. Since it may take a while before you watch the entire broadcast, let me give you a few highlights under the category of . . .

Now you see it, now you don’t

1. Retirees: Before the meeting, the annual celebration to acknowledge service anniversaries and retirees was held in the Maple Point auditorium. Even though we are losing some fine educators to well-deserved retirements, their legacy of educational excellence will remain. Thank you and good luck to all the retirees.

2. The Retired Educator: When the meeting began, the room was full of parents, PTO members, and senior citizens – all except for one notable absence: Howard Lindner. I don’t know if he was asked by MRC party leadership not to attend, or if he just chose to stay home and watch American Idol. All I can say was he wasn’t there, but one of his cronies was. She stayed long enough to hear public comment, then left shortly afterwards. My guess is she was there to report on any public reaction to Lindner’s tirade at the last meeting.

3. The Contingency: Here’s the bottom line on the NHS renovation project – with 38% of the project remaining, only 10% of the contingency fund remains. Is that good? Bad? I’m no construction manager, so I asked someone in the building trades about it. He told me that the rule of thumb is that 90% of a contingency fund is used to finish up the last 10% of a project. If that’s true, then holding the line on the renovation project budget is going to be a difficult challenge. The major obstacle is the road improvements required which were not considered in the original project plans. That added approximately $450k in unanticipated costs.

4. Tawanka: All indications are is that the alternative program has been deemed successful as it prevents upwards of 22 students each year from dropping out. So while the program may not disappear, the building will (sort of). There are a number of parties interested in renting part or all of the facility, and this could be a significant source of revenue for the district. But the question is where to house the alternative education program? The Eisenhower facility seems the logical choice, but there will be some costs associated with renovating that building. Another consideration may be at Sandburg/Schweitzer, but can the program be as effective if the alternative program students aren’t in an isolated environment? There doesn’t seem to be clear consensus amongst the board, and there isn’t a whole lot of time left to figure it out.

A few parting thoughts

I was extremely pleased to see a plethora (hi, Erin!) of attendees last night and at many of our meetings over the past few months. While the concerns of redistricting and building closures is what may have drawn these people out, many of them are sticking around and asking questions, and they’re coming back again and again. I attribute this to the work of our dedicated PTO leaders around the district. They have been doing a fine job of educating their parents as to the issues, and encouraging attendance at the meetings.

I have received numerous emails and even a few phone calls of encouragement after the last meeting, with people showing concern that I was beaten up by Mr. Lindner and his political posse. Thank you all for your support and kind words. To be honest, I wasn’t all that bothered by what happened because I expected it. When you’ve been around this district long enough, you understand how things work. What happened that night was nothing more than a pathetic, predictable attempt at maintaining control (although the teamsters in the back were a nice touch). If anything, Mr. Lindner’s actions that night only served to strengthen my resolve.

Lots of positive feedback on the video clips from the last meeting. I’ll try to include clips in future posts but it’s a bit of a challenge. I don’t have the ability to digitally record the meetings, so I have to find someone who does. Then I have to get around to actually reading the directions for the video editing software. Maybe with a little practice I’ll get better at it.

Next Tuesday’s (May 13th, 7pm) school board meeting will feature updates on the Neshaminy Middle School closure and the 2008/2009 budget. It will be a can’t-miss meeting, although I hope it won’t be nearly as long as last night’s session.


where are they now? said...

Thank you for the concise update, Mr. O'Connor. This blog is a real Godsend to those of us who cannot make the meetings.

The contingency fund problem is a joke. Where are all those who said we could have a $50 million renovation that was good as a new building? My neighbor was at the meeting and mentioned something about another $700,000 in renovation costs if we want to move the purchasing and receiving departments up at the high school. If we don't spend that money, then those departments stay at neshaminy middle and we can't fully rent out that building. So either we get $700k more in cost or we lose revenue - all thanks to a "good as new" renovation. But that's ok because even if it ends up costing us more, the disruption it's caused our students and faculty is more than worth it, right???

i found them said...

I'll tell you where they are. 2 are currently on the board, 1 left the board and may come back and Lindner, who said his phone was ringing off the hook with praise when they opened up a new wing.
What a joke. The rest of the people are at Flowers Mills staying at home trying to figure out why their taxes didn't go down.
What a financial blunder this thing was. And "where are they now", makes a good point. The students and faculty have been the victims of many disruptions. These disruptions are kept very quiet. The administration who I don't blame (they wanted a new HS), has done a good job making the best of it.

pianomom said...

Good as new? My daughter said the traffic jam in the new wing is more congested than it ever was in the old building. To think that we could have had a brand new building, same or less cost, less disruption for our students, and we wouldn't be the laughing stock of Bucks County. That is the legacy of our "retired educator" and those board members who used this issue to win election. And they want to know why this is still such an important issue to many residents. It's not a thing of the past - it's become a symbol for the short sighted financial decisions and bad politics of this district. I don't know how many people out there realize that Mr. O'Connor and his wife were the ones who organized the Vote YES group for the new high school. Unfortunately it has cost taxpayers many millions to learn that the O'Connors were right all along.

pianomom said...

Sorry to go off topic but I wanted to compliment your wife. I spoke with her a few months back in the tax collector's office. What a lovely, cheerful woman she is. As busy as she was she managed to ask me how my day was. She made time to listen to me, just like you do for our community, Mr. O'Connor. I understand she still attends every board meeting with you. Thank you both for your service to our community! (hope she doesn't mind my saying this)

William O'Connor said...

I don't think she'll mind too much, Pianomom :-) She really is quite a gal.
Thank you for your very nice words.

Anonymous said...

Pianomom, you forgot to mention that if we had built new, Neshaminy Middle would have already been closed, saving taxpayers millions each year. It's even possible that an elementary building could have been closed by now too. Is there anybody out there who really still wants to debate that the new school wasn't the better option (excluding the retired educator, of course)?

Levittowner said...

For those of you who missed this tidbit from Mr. Koziol...

I am working from memory here, but it really is quite hilarious and relevant to the shortsightedness
of some on the board.

Tawanka's prinicple was being asked if the Tawanks students could go to school from 3-5 PM for a bit in the old building. Of course the board as usually was nitpicking on issues that made sense to everyone in the audience thus missing..once again..the big picture of where they should be putting thier heads for the decisions that require thier thoughts and reflections. Wasting time...wasting time...

This is the part that I remember, and it sticks with me because some on the board seem to really be in their own alternate universe.

The principal mentioned that the Tawanks kids weren't able to go to school between 3 and 5pm for a year because many of them were integrated back into the after school activities at their home schools at that time so having evening hours wouldn't work.

Mr. Koziol then stated- and I'm quoting from memory here- Well, that doesn't mean we can't do it.


He was really *on* last night as he spent inumerous time trying to nitpick numbers on other fiscal issues that didn't even make logical sense..even Mr. Paradise seemed to get aggrevated with him (and he is usually quite calm)

I really hope the board makes decisive, informative and timely decisions for administration so we aren't once again..penny wise and pound foolish. The backdrop off all the "add ons" to our big "ON TIME AND ON BUDGET" high school was a serious backdrop to the road the baord just CANNOT travel down again. Shortsightedness can not take place.

Sorry so long..but it was a long meeting!

Levittowner said...

One more note...

The Board Policies Commitee meeting will be at 6pm next week.

They are putting on the table the idea to have a ---

personnel committee for admin and assistant admin jobs

The public is welcome to attend and I would suggest those of you who may feel strongly about this issue to make it there.

Personally, I want to understand how they could possibly believe they should now have an "official" hand in the hiring making process.

Anonymous said...

To Levittowner: Do you know approximately how far into the 3 hour meeting that occurred? I want to hear that for myself but rather not spend half my evening looking for it.

If what you recall of his statement is accurate, I won't know whether to laugh or cry. I also heard he made a bad comparison between Tawanka and the White House - Something like the president makes the White House and the students make the school, not the other way around. I guess that's his justification for sticking at risk or special needs students in any hole in the ground and calling it their school.

I read that his seat is up for election in 2009. I hope he isn't running again.

TFR1984 said...

Nice of you to acknowledge PTO people. They do so much for our community but are seldom noticed.

I believe one reason they have gotten more involved in the district is because of your work. You have this blog, and before that there was a website. You came to speak at one of our school's PTO meetings. And you spoke before our neighborhood group last year about the Act 1 legislation. Any time I've emailed you, you responded immediately and were always helpful.

I'm proud to have you as my school board representative.

Anonymous said...

You must not have heard the news. The new Personnel Committee has already been formed. All future administrators will be hired by Lou Muenker, Rick Eccles, and Howard Lindner.
(Editor's Note - This comment was edited for content)

still giggling said...

to the last anonymous...I nearly spit out my soda when I read the news about the personnel committee...perfect and priceless...thanks for the laugh!!

Levittowner said... far into the three hour meeting was it?

Let me think..I *think* it was after Mr Kadri gave his presentation to the baord and they were asking it was relatively early in the meeting.

I always thought Mr. Koziol was ok. I mean, sometimes he got a bit nitpicky, but I still thought he cared about the kids.

I guess the budget crunch has done him in. He was embarassing to watch as he seemed to really have no regard to the children.

Oh..except for when he was nitpicking the school lunch increase that..although sad..made sense to everyone in the audience from the groans that accompanied his questions (oh..and their were many many of them!)

Loved the personnel joke by the way. It would be funny if I wouldn't be suprised by it actually happening one day.

Anonymous said...

The contingency fund problem should not be a big surprise. Those who wanted the renovation have ran for the hills. What is apparent now is that those who wanted to build new where not only correct, but even more correct than they even thought. I can easily think of at least 15 reasons why new was better. Try to list them, they are pretty easy. Can someone even come up with one reason why we went the route we did ? If you can, please post it, thanks.

LO said...

Here are some reasons for the expensive renovation:
1) Win elections
2) Put a wedge between seniors and parents
3) Use fear to scare seniors into doing the bidding of the retired teacher

I must be living in Jersey said...

We just added on 700,000 more good reasons why we should have built new. I don't understand why Neshaminy overlooked the Purchasing department in the renovation plan. Did they just forget about it? Or did somebody leave it off intentionally to make the renovation plan look as inexpensive as possible?

We will be paying for that horrible decision for years and years. Considering the impact on property values and how it divided our community, this could go down as the worst financial decision in Neshaminy history. How come the retired educator won't get up at a meeting and brag about that?

the professor said...

To: I must be living in NJ. I am sure if we thought of all the reasons why we should have built new, additional things will pop up. You mentioned overlooking the Purchasing Department. When you renovate, you don't get 100% of what you need. There are many items which will come up in the next 3 to 5 years which will need replacement. Not only the worst decision in Neshaminy history but possibly the worst in PA history. I'm really surprised 60 Minutes or 20/20 didn't do a show on this thing. That's how outrageous this is.

I must be living in jersey said...

In honor of Mother's Day, let's raise a glass and toast the mother of all financial disasters - The Neshaminy High School Renovation!

Thank you to all the board members and political activists who made this possible :-(

really disgusted said...

Let's start a list of the items they forgot or will forget:
1. Alternative school space
2. Purchasing/warehouse
3. fields for 9th grade to use for their sports
4. pool
5. stadium renovations
6. the paving of the roadway
7. tech rooms (almost left this out - so I am counting it)
8. Did they remember the grassy area/parking that will need clean up when the construction company leaves? Hmmmmm
9. cafeteria painting/base - forgot certain areas (really)
10. Other - anyone? anyone?

Anonymous said...

This is something small, but does our $80 million include an electronic sign outside the high school. Other districts have them and I think it really keeps the students, faculty and the community stay informed about events happening at the school.

I must be Living in Jersey said...

No electronic sign for $80 million, but the building principal will stand by the road wearing a huge sandwich board that contains messages for the day. To save even more money, they'll be using wooden planks torn up from the asbestos filled floor.

really disgusted said...

thanks jersey for the smile! LOL...and yes, I forgot that they forgot a half decent sign. I wonder if they forgot the painting of the parking lots...hmmmm...

st319 said...

Thank you "i must be living in jersey" for the laugh. I'm still laughing.

But why stop at the principal? Why not have Eccles, Webb and Koziol do all the advertizing! After all, they want to claim that they saved the district so much money going with the renovated option. I'm sure they would want to do what ever is necessary to save even more, since we are almost out of funds to finish "their" project.