June 18, 2015
The Wilkes-Barre Area School Board, after going through the motions pretending it was not a Dunn Deal, on Wednesday June 10, 2015, finally announced their plans to build a brand spanking new high school. They not only made a poor decision, they made it worse by picking the smallest spot available where Coughlin now stands.
At just about two and a half acres, the Coughlin site is too small even for Al Boscov to build another fine department store. Yet, the magicians on the Board think they know something about building a mega-school that is not obvious to the rest of mankind. Too bad they know nothing about how to maintain a school building or the new mega school would not even be a consideration.
Ask yourself, which of the students from GAR and Meyers will be able to walk to school and make it on-time? Ask yourself how do the students from Parsons and Miners Mills and Plains and Laurel Run get to Coughlin today? We know that most students from Meyers and GAR walk to school today. Is it fair to ask if anybody on the School Board plans to take a stake in a School Bus company?
The Board has just made a decision about which, nothing seems right and nothing seems OK. The idea stinks; the site stinks; and the Board thinks we are all dumb by throwing this bogus deal at us and hoping we let it stick. More and more residents have recently awakened to the reality of a poor educational system, morning traffic jams, and massive property tax increases in their future. Finally the people are beginning to look at the problem seriously. They are concluding that more than likely, it is the Board itself that stinks.
Cheers to Parent Lois Grimm who at the big decision meeting asked for a show of hands to see who opposed the board's determination to build a new school. The GAR auditorium was packed for the meeting with those who came to oppose the measure. The crowd quickly raised their hands high. Supporters of the Board plan must have taken the night off. Still the Board chose not to get the overwhelmingly negative message from the people. Without formally saying it, the board declared: "What is best for the students does not count and of course the people of Wilkes-Barre, aka the voters, do not count."
Gabby Richards, a 2011 Meyers graduate let the Board have it both barrels: "By making a decision of this magnitude without consulting the public, the community in which this decision affects, you are not honoring the trust that we put in you to respect this community."
If you are looking for a testimonial to the current high school configuration producing fine educational outcomes, look no further than Gabby Richards. Will future students do as well as Gabby in a mega-school environment in which they are small dots in a great abyss?
Current Meyers student Josh Schiowitz showed he too is no slouch in the learning department thanks to his Meyers Education. He offered the Board his opinion and requested they not lower any standards for the students: "I don't want to see a combined school because how detrimental to education that is. All three city schools have the perfect number of students as far as enrollment; as far as educational opportunities; as far as academic achievement; and as far as extracurricular participation." Sometimes the teachers need to listen to the students.
School Superintendent Dr. Bernard Prevuznak meekly offered his assessment of why the Board had to take action immediately: "Both James M. Coughlin and E. L. Meyers High Schools were showing signs of years of deterioration and neglect."
Dr. Jeffrey Namey, led the District for sixteen years then retired in 2012. Dr. Prevuznak took over from him in 2012. Prior to this, Prevuznak was Deputy Superintendent for 11 years before becoming Superintendent. The deterioration occurred on Namey's and Pevuznak's watch.
Prevuznak is the leader of a system that provides education to students, and that is surely a big job. He is not the guy to come to about soil composition or the structural integrity of school buildings. There is no such person on the WBASD staff of over 500 employees.
Though the Superintendent does not have an executive advisor on staff with any of the required technical talents to manage building assets properly, he is still tasked with the job. As we have seen with the demise of many District structures in recent times, paying contractors for ad hoc projects does not produce effective long term building maintenance plans.
Dr. Prevuznak is known in the district as a fine man, and a real gentleman. I think they are right. He is all that and more. Teachers and staff really like him. However, he is not an architect or an engineer. He is not an operations manager. He is not a facilities manager. Dr. Bernard Prevuznak is none of these and so he is not even able to properly assess technical proposals from outside contractors. He is also not Superman.
Compounding the Superintendent's shortfall in personal technical abilities, he has nobody with such talent at the ready by his side. In other words, no employee in the district carries a title such as Executive Director, Facilities Management and Services. Thus, nobody is specifically responsible for the dilapidation and disrepair which has occurred in the school buildings.
Otherwise, as we know, he or she would have been at the decision meetings to provide the explanation for the problem. All fingers would be pointing their way. Their head would have been on the block so the leaders could save face.
Yes, hard as it may be to believe, even now, with a $100 million deal on the table, there still is not one single person employed by the District with the proper qualifications to advise the Superintendent on facilities' matters. If taxpayers let this new building scam go through, who will be the person to assure the new structure is being built properly?
There is not one person whose mission it is to assure that the hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of school district real property are well maintained and properly managed. Likewise, there would be nobody qualified to advise the Superintendent and the Board that new construction is being done correctly. Who will help assure that we do not create a big $100 million mistake?
It is no wonder the school district properties are mismanaged and neglected. It is no wonder they deteriorated without any attention. We can count on more of the same for all WBASD schools and other structures that ultimately are owned by the public. Knowing what they now know, it would be malfeasance for the Leadership (Board and Superintendent) to neglect their responsibility to hire the proper facilities leadership and the necessary qualified staff to avoid or at least minimize such huge complications in future years.
To summarize this point, the Wilkes-Barre Area School District has a Superintendent, whose major mission is Education, not facilities management, and so the facilities have not been managed at all. In many ways, neither Dr. Prevuznak nor Dr. Namey could have prevented the deterioration and neglect, because they do not have the skill set required to manage buildings.
However both agreed to take care of the District's assets when they took the jobs. They were in charge when buildings started to fall apart. Even then, neither hired the right people to address the problems to protect the several hundreds of millions in building assets owned by the people. Their failure to hire who they needed makes them culpable for all of the neglect.
What I see in the brief statement by the second highest ranking school district executive for eleven years, who has been the highest ranking executive for the last three years is a suggestion that the two nasty culprits that created this problem were deterioration and neglect, and not mismanagement.
Dr. Prevuznak is only partly correct. Deterioration happens only when neglect is permitted by management. During this period, only the Superintendent and Board leaders were empowered to change the status quo. Instead of doing nothing, they could have insisted that public owned property be sustained and not neglected.
With over $300 million in building assets under their control, they should have insisted on continual status reports and a proper maintenance schedule. The cost for this and for people on staff who can fix things when they break should have been worked into each budget. In this way, deterioration would not have occurred.
There could have been a big payback if Dr. Prevuznak, Dr. Namey, and the School Board payed attention to all parts of their jobs rather than permitting and in fact overseeing neglect. That payback would be huge to the tune of $100 million. Yes, with due diligence on the part of School District Leadership, $100 million would not be due from District taxpayers who are now bracing for a huge tax increase.
One thing we all know is that nothing is free and when somebody gives an estimate of "exactly" $100 million without showing a blueprint, we also know that the cost to taxpayers will be substantially more.
Stay tuned as www.savewbschools.com becomes a focal point for this major issue for residents within the Wilkes-Barre Area School District.
We must remain vigilant and committed to solve this problem.