After hearing concerns of Churchill residents over the figures used to determine the cost benefits of selling the Woodland Hills administration building and leasing office space in Braddock, the school board took action Wednesday night to hire an independent financial analyst to review the numbers.
Superintendent Alan Johnson even recommended someone for the job—Pat Sable, who was the long-time chief financial officer for the Allegheny Intermediate Unit, which provides specialized educational services to Allegheny County's 42 suburban school districts and five vocational/technical schools. He cited Sable's expertise in working with school district budgets as a plus over certified public accounts who work more with the business sector. Sable retired from the AIU in November and has a private consulting firm.
Even Bill Gatti, TREK's owner, said an independent look at the numbers would be "a relief," saying then "it wouldn't be our words against citizens' beliefs."
But when it came time to make a motion to hire the analyst, not one board member stepped forward to bring a specific name to the table for a vote, leaving the residents a bit befuddled about what just took place.
Last month, the school board decided to enter an option agreement to sell the current administration building on Greensburg Pike for $625,000 to TREK Development Group and lease office space in TREK's Braddock Overlook Development at a cost of $125,000 a year.
The lease would be for three years with a no-penalty, opt-out clause in favor of the district and contingent upon TREK taking ownership of the property at 2430 Greensburg Pike. The terms of the sale and lease are subject to negotiation, approval and execution of a lease agreement and option agreement acceptable to the board within 45 days of Jan. 28.
At Wednesday's meeting, some Churchill residents separately addressed the board, concerned that the board made the decision to sell/lease through TREK without having an independent financial analyst review the developer's figures.
Adding to some of the confusion was that Pace School, which is located directly behind the administration building, put a new offer on the table to purchase the entire building and property for $700,000, which is $75,000 more than the TREK offer. However, Pace School would be tax-exempt whereas TREK's proposed development would provide tax revenues to the district.
Pace CEO Karen Lamoureux extended the offer Feb. 12, with the promise that the building would not be used to establish a charter school.
Although the recommendations to approve the lease agreement for office space in the Braddock Overlook Project and sales agreement with TREK for the Greensburg Pike property were on Wednesday's agenda, the board pulled both items because they had not had time to review the documents or consider the Pace School offer.
The board then voted to obtain an independent financial analysis by a 6-1 vote with Bob Tomasic opposed and board member Jeff Hanchett and board President Regis Driscoll absent for the vote.
Board Vice President Marilyn Messina, who was conducting the meeting, attempted to get a board member to make a motion to hire either Sable, as the superintendent recommended, or another firm. The board discussed choosing someone without any ties to the board members or district—and Messina offered to recuse herself from a vote since she has served on the AIU Board of Directors for many years, noting "my integrity is important."
There was also some discussion about posting a legal ad for an analyst, but the process of doing so would take longer than the 45 days required under the agreement with TREK.
When no one on the board nominated someone to consider for the job, Messina decided to drop the matter and move to the next business item.
Dolores Patterson, a Churchill resident and former member of the Churchill Area School Board, one of the five districts merged to form Woodland Hills in 1981, said she was "astounded" by the board not requesting an independent look at the figures.
"You could have done this months ago," she told the board.