Voting ‘yes’ on school bond against my will
The other day as I walked across the lawn to the GrassRoots studio to discuss the middle school bond question I inadvertently stepped into a large pile of dog poop. It turned out to be nothing compared to the heap I would soon uncover.Although I have been a vocal opponent to Question 3B, I am not necessarily against a new school. My position is that this issue has been rushed with little community input, and taking it back to the drawing board will result in a better school. I think this is reasonable.The school board thinks otherwise. They don’t just disagree with me, either. They are vehemently opposed. I didn’t understand why. It puzzled me. It gnawed at me. It was irrational. I couldn’t figure out their urgency.Then, I stepped in the answer. After filming a segment for “The Andrew Kole Show,” a heated discussion ensued. I snipped to school board member Laura Kornasiewicz that in the real world, where money actually means something, we don’t tear down buildings when roofs leak.”That would mean taking $800,000 out of operations to fix it!” she shot back.I asked, “What about capital reserves?””There are no capital reserves!”My jaw dropped; I was speechless. What happened to the millions that were supposed to be held in capital reserves from the sales of the Red and Yellow Brick buildings? How could a school district with more than $70 million in infrastructure under its control not have a designated capital reserve to keep the assets in good working condition? Buildings wear out. A capital reserve fund ensures that you can maintain them properly. In an abbreviated fashion it works like this: Say a roof cost $500,000 and will last for 20 years. Each year the prudent owner sets aside $25,000 for its eventual replacement. This guarantees that you have cash instead of a crisis in the year that it needs fixing. It is a line item in the budget. It’s that simple! If the building has multiple owners who change frequently (i.e. a condominium association, a real estate investment trust, or a school district) it is imperative to add to a capital reserve annually so that the people who happen to own the building at the time it needs repairs (i.e. us) don’t bear the entire cost.So, finally I figured out the current administration’s motive in this campaign. They are desperate! They don’t have the money to fix the middle school – period!In a nutshell, the departing board is worried about leaving financial chaos as their legacy. If this bond issue fails, the community will discover just what a mess they’ve created. On the other hand, a new middle school means this board’s mistakes will be buried in the rubble of the old structure.After a fitful night, I called Fred Peirce, chair of the school board, to confirm my suspicions. I asked him whether the school district maintained a capital reserve. The answer was, “Well, yes … and no.” (read: “No, we don’t.”) The district keeps the state minimum requirement of a measly $215,000 on hand, not enough to cover a third of the cost to fix the middle school roof. They don’t add to this each year. They don’t even spend out of this fund because then they are required to replenish it. Do you get it? They aren’t doing basic maintenance and repairs! That’s why the middle and elementary school roofs are continually leaking and Superintendent Diana Sirko is afraid to flush her toilet.I asked Peirce if he thought it was prudent to basically keep no money on hand for the maintenance of $70 million dollars worth of buildings that the district owns. He told me that the asset committee has looked at this issue and decided that, at this point, there is nothing worth maintaining. Once the new middle school is built they might consider keeping more on hand. Excuse me?! Nothing worth maintaining?! What about the $40 million high school we just built? What about the twenty-something-million-dollar elementary school from 1994? Those structures are not even going to make it 35 years if we don’t start taking care of them! How can we be thinking about building a brand new, state-of-the-art middle school? We can’t afford to preserve the buildings we already have. It’s like stretching to buy a new Porsche and not leaving enough to pay for oil changes. Contrary to what the current board seems to believe, programs and buildings are not unrelated. Well maintained buildings are an integral part of good programs. Yes, I understand the board’s desire to put all funds into kids’ programs. But, what has been the cost of this strategy? It has effectively funded past programs by funneling it out of our children’s futures. It turns out that most of those millions from the Red and Yellow Brick building sales have already been spent. The remaining $1 million to $4 million (nobody could tell me exactly how much is left) is earmarked to systematically feed an annual operating deficit of $300,000 to $400,000 that has been blessed by the current board. As to what happens when that money runs out in a few years is anybody’s guess. I asked Peirce what kind of financial predicament the district will be in if this bond issue fails. He told me it will be moderate to severe. Immediate cuts to our children’s programs will be made to pay for repairs on the middle school roof. So, we either approve this bloated, rushed bond issue, or our kids and their teachers suffer. That’s not a choice! Our kids’ educations are being ransomed.This crisis will not only cost us a ton of cash, it will also force us to forfeit the time necessary to evaluate and scrutinize this project properly to ensure that we get the best new building for our money. A mostly new board faced with this precarious financial predicament can’t possibly make any promises about controlling overall school populations. And, a continued cycle of waste in replacing buildings long before their useful lives have expired is a burden this planet can’t afford. So, where does that leave me? Foremost, it leaves me infuriated. This fiscal irresponsibility has compromised me into making a decision I wouldn’t otherwise make. This example of mismanagement makes me want to force our representatives to lie naked in the bed they have made. I want them exposed for their poor decisions and shortsightedness. There is a big part of me that believes making them figure this mess out for themselves will result in better governance for the future. I won’t blame a single one of you if decide to vote no on this bond. But, that luxury is not afforded to me now. What should be a standalone issue is not. My children come first. I hate to reward poor management, but I hate even more to have my children and their teachers suffer for it. Lest anyone interpret it otherwise, I have not hopped on this ship; it’s more like I’ve been keelhauled. Against common sense, I’m voting yes on 3B … probably … maybe.Roger Marolt understands that approval of question 3A could buy time to put the bond issue on hold. He just hasn’t been able to examine it thoroughly. It’s taken a ton of time to figure this mess out. Contact him at email@example.com
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