So USD 373 has finally committed to what they have wanted for the last couple of years – to pass another bond, this time between $30 million and 80 million.
They took a different approach and hired a consultant group to get a long term vision of what the district needed, which I said all along was just a cover for a bond. Many didn’t notice but the district opted to use the same architecture firm for all the phases of a bond: Visioneering, pushing the bond, and design of how the money will be spent. A typical architecture firm gets 10 to 15 percent of the bond value as their fee. So in the range the district is talking the firm stands to make $3 million and 12 million. Not too bad for getting a bunch of spend happy liberals to build monuments to themselves with tax payer dollars.
Am I saying we don’t need any improvements? Of course not. But all we have are rough estimates of what is needed, no clear plan. The last bond was passed the same way. We ‘needed’ $30 million worth of improvements then when they had over $1 million left at the end they spent it on other projects instead of paying off the debt early. This is complete foolishness. You wouldn’t remodel your kitchen without a clear plan and a firm estimate from your contractor.
The board also voted to set May as the time to vote on the bond. Why? So you won’t remember it as passionately at the ballot box in November. One board member was quoted as saying they didn’t want to politicize the vote. I believe they just don’t want to lose their seat on the board because people are upset about them spending another massive amount of their hard earned tax dollars without a good plan. And it is just that, no good plan yet. Everything they talked about so far is ballpark numbers based on square footage and ideas. They want so many things they just need to figure out how much the electorate will stand.
One thing they at least got right this time is talking about Walton. Last time they didn’t spend a dime on Walton. This time they figured out if they would get the Walton parents on board they will have a better chance of getting what they want. I know that Walton needs serious attention after being neglected for so long. I offer a word of caution for the Walton parents though, please don’t get caught up in the fact that if you get what you want then everything else is OK. Between $30 million and 80 million of new debt does no good in the long run if it is not wisely spent. They are talking about a ‘wrap around’ bond, which back ends the debt, just like last time. We are just now starting to make real payments on the last bond debt, instead of interest payments. A new wrap around will make sure we are still paying on this new bond when kids born today are graduating high school.
What should the board do? Move the bond date to November. This will give a broader swath of the electorate a chance to voice their opinion. This will also make all the board members – for and against –own their decisions. I can reasonably believe that someone who is facing re-election might want a little tighter plan of how to spend our tax dollars so they can defend it.
The board needs to be specific about what they want. New science classrooms at the high school? New Walton school? New fancy sitting area at the high school or McKinley? Make a list of the things we absolutely must have then get a real number for it. I understand this takes some time to gather but I am sure the board can find the money to pay someone to put these things out for bid and firm up the numbers. When asked why we needed another 12,000 sq ft at the high school the architecture firm hired for this process said, ‘we added that much in a project we did for Ottawa’. Wow, is that how we want to spend our hard earned tax dollars, keeping up with the other guys building? The test of a district is what is produced at diploma time, not how big your school is.
The board should also put the rest of the process out for bid. There are several firms who specialize in schools. Having one firm who helps with ‘visioneering’ then gets all the reward on the back end looks bad. When the district has a firm plan of exactly what it needs then it can hire an architect to design each project instead of giving them a blank check. I was told that a big bond then figuring out specifics later is just how it is done. I know that since it is our money we can do things the way we want to and find a firm willing to do it our way.
— Jason Mitchel is a member of the leadership team of the Harvey County Republican Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.