Mt. Vernon Register-News

January 28, 2014

A helicopter view

The Register-News

---- — The readers of the newspaper know that I write continuously about basically two items, healthcare cost and the corruptness in our political system.

I deviate from this sometimes because of either requests from people or articles that are sent to me with a request to include in my column. I am constantly chastised by my colleagues who I affectionately call the ‘Fitness Center Mafia “for not focusing on local issues as the main theme. Today I want to describe a recent school board meeting that I attended along with several colleagues at the high school.

Months of discussion have been ongoing pertaining to the project of building a new school. There has been tremendous controversy about the difference that the folks voted for in a second referendum and what is now being reported as the possible current cost. Originally the cost as I understand it was to be a $19.8 million dollar contribution from the property owners which was said to be approximately one third of the new school cost with state funds making up the additional two thirds for a school that would cost $62 million dollars. Now the public is being told that the school could cost in excess of $72 million or maybe even more. Every day there are new figures quoted and debated.

In a public meeting that occurred in July of last year a statement was made that the school board was told by the architectural firm that the cost would be well above the $62 million before the school referendum was voted and approved. This has been vehemently denied by several of the board members. They state that they never had any knowledge that the cost would exceed $70 million dollars. Several respected community members who attended this meeting stated that they were shocked at the stone-faced silence when this was revealed. None of the board members at the meeting commented when these statements were made. I do not want to get into a “he said she said” scenario about who is right and who is wrong. I simply want to state that this present school board should live up to what they presented to the public in order to get a positive vote for new school on the second referendum. They should direct the architectural firm and the construction management folks to redesign the school to meet the $62 million criteria that the voters agreed to and stop all the controversy. Just do what you said when you asked voters to approve it.

I was very impressed at this meeting with the passion of the students, teachers and administrative people who pleaded the case for not eliminating the theatre as a cost reduction. They were passionate in their presentations on what the theater program had meant to them while in school. I personally think that based upon their presentations that it would be very desirable to include a theater in the new school. I also realize the value in having the input from all of the stakeholders that work so hard to make the school successful. In the real world; you are not going to be able to satisfy everyone. You will not satisfy the folks whose prime interest are academics or the folks whose prime interest are athletics, gym’s, music, theater and other interests. That’s what leadership is all about; making decisions that are in the best interest of the entire group without favoring any special interest and never losing sight of the objective of giving students the best education possible to prepare them for the real world when they graduate? I used to vote a lot of issues with large groups and those 51%-49% votes always caused discomfort because who wants 49% of the folks mad and unhappy? 65%-85% in favor or against worked better.

I continuously learn major differences between the private and public sector. In the public sector a “boondoggle” of a project such as we are experiencing would by now have experienced a huge turnover and project managers, architects and others involved would have been in deep trouble with some replacements occurring. Don’t get me wrong; this happens in the private sector; projects are not on time and over budget at times, but a major difference is that people are held accountable when this occurs. They are not able to make major changes in project scopes and timelines without being held accountable. Let’s build a new school, the majority voted for it. Let’s build a great $62 million school with a participation of $19.8 million that the voters thought they were participating in. Let’s stop the haggling, the attempt to use smoke and mirrors to convince us that we voted for something different and just get on when it.

I did not get into the “premium” bond issue because I am a little fearful that even though presented as legal, most of us would probably view it as financial chicanery because we do not understand paying 5% or 6% to “Premium” bond holders rather than 3% or so to “Par” bond holders for the years stated. There just has to be more interest to be paid over the life of the bonds. We just understand that we voted to approve $19.8 million in bonds for a new school or at least that was what was publicized that would cost around $62 million. Any additional cost that burdens property owners is not going to be considered chump change to property owners. Most of them are still mad about the first tax bill exceeding the promised $100 bucks per $100,000 valuation. I am sure we remember that result. No sense pouring gasoline on the fire. We need to resolve it and move on for the sake of the students, faculty and citizens. Let me close by quoting a respected member of our community who addressed the board at this meeting. He stated to one board member that he had read in the local paper that she was concerned that the credibility of the board was being questioned. He explained in a brief statement that will stick with me forever. He said not only is the credibility of the board being questioned, but the credibility of the community is being questioned as well. He stated that our credibility in the community is being questioned as to whether we are able to elect and hire competent people that will carry out the people’s business with diligence and integrity. He pointed out to me that we now have a lot of folks on the board that were not elected, but appointed by the folks originally proposing the project. What a profound statement!