Monday, October 31, 2011

JG fabricating the news again

This morning's JG editorial page claimed I was already organizing against the FWCS bond issue. Apparently part of their editorial ethos is stating their opinions as facts. Keep that in mind whenever you read their editorial page.

I'm not encouraged by what I've heard at board meetings so far and no one should take FWCS word for what they need as a fact either. So go to one of the four upcoming information sessions (sales jobs?) and decide for yourself. Fowler Finn said there were no major building issues remaining after NSHS was remodeled. The building deterioration issue only appeared on Wendy's radar after she failed to get the board to approve air conditioning. So her end run used building deterioration as cover for a grand remodeling project which would have included air conditioning. By repeating the deterioration theme about their "aging buildings" long enough they think they can jack up the number.

Pay attention and make up your own mind. My aging house, by the way, is 90 years old.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Take the FWCS Facilities survey

FWCS has a survey on its website to get voter sentiment on their building project. That's a big improvement over last time when they assumed everyone would go along with them. Hopefully they'll take the feedback seriously and give us a report on what they learned. (After all we paid for the survey.) Then, again hopefully, they'll use the results to come up with a reasonable strategy.

There's only one way to find out.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Wanna buy Elmhurst for a buck?

The new charter school legislation gives anyone the option to buy a closed government shool for $1 and turn it into a charter school. The JG ran an article on that subject today citing Elmhurst as an example of a (perfectly sound) building standing empty. In addition to some other inane comments, FWCS spokesperson Krista Stockman added that they were "open to anyone who wants to make a reasonable offer."

OK, Krista, my offer is $1. Anybody want to go halfies? We can go together for $.50 each and create our own "high school of the future" (we get to define that ourselves like the board gets to define "fiscal responsibility") for one dollar instead of $100 million a new Snyder. And we can look at the FWCS "high schools of the present" as a model for what not to do.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's all absolutely essential and long overdue

Last night the board heard from their bonding expert who went through the financing scenarios and estimates for homeowner tax increases. For a median priced home of $89,000 a ball park number the additional tax for the full $242 million looks like around $60-$80/year. The cost rises sharply for more expensive homes because the exemptions have less effect. They'll have to come out with more detailed information as they get further into the process.

Then they got into a discussion of categorizing and prioritizing the work, which went off track, so I left. Apparently the consensus (as reported by this morning's JG) was that everything in the scope was essential so prioritizing wasn't necessary. We'll just have to take their word for that. The only mention of the Capital Fund which is intended for building upkeep was that the tax caps have decreased their money and there was no prospect of getting more from the legislature. There was no mention of the money that's been diverted for "racial balance" and whether that will continue.

Also proposed was relacing Snyder altogether with a new building at double the cost ($100 million) of renovation. That has nothing to do with looking for a cost effective solution for taxpayers. That's a Mark Giaquinta strategy to get votes for the project in the NE part of town, which is crucial to getting it past the voters.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fixing the buildings is the bill for "Racial Balance"

Four years ago, School Board Member for Life Steve Corona was asked in a Ch. 15 interview how he could have let the buildings deteriorate to the tune of $500 million. He didn't answer because he hadn't. He had let them deteriorate to the tune of about $150 million. That's how much had been diverted from the capital fund, which maintains and upgrades the buildings, to pay for the "racial balance" program the district agreed to fund to avoid a lawsuit. The expenditures were supposed to be "tax neutral" but as we see now they were not.

The rest of the $500 million fell into the "This is not a wish list." category. But he couldn't say that either. The diversion of money to "racial balance" continues even though after 22 years there is no quantifiable benefit for any of that program. The choice to continue is a political decision.

Now the district is floating a number of $250 million. The wish list items were pointedly taken out of the scope this time. Why the hell were they in there last time, Steve? Although $250 million is closer to the actual amount they've lost, there's no way for taxpayers to determine if it's a realistic number. We'll have to take their word for it when the final amount shows up on a ballot referendum next spring. We'll have to take the word of people who only tell us what they want us to hear. Like when they brag about the improvement in ISTEP scores but don't tell us about the deterioration of the high school scores the last two years.

They had no credibility four years ago and they don't have any now. If they want to continue funding programs beyond their budget, they should tell the taxpayers exactly what they're doing and submit it on a separate referendum. But that would require an honesty and transparency which would be a radical departure from the past.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

How does $250 million sound?

Last night FWCS chief financial officer Kathy Friend along with Steve Parker, Darren Hess and Pat Casey of the facilities group presented their cost estimate for a plan to fix what's broken in 20 of the district's buildings. There is no way for me to know the details and justifications of the projects or the accuracy of the estimates. However, the group did a creditable job. In fact if this group had been in charge of the effort five years ago, they might well have succeeded.

But that's just my opinion. Times have changed and, even more so than last time, people will vote their pocket books. The most relevant comment of the night from the board came from Lisa Olinger, who said that they needed to consider what the community could afford. That might require breaking the project up into smaller chunks, being open about more to follow as the economy improves.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Tony Bennett smoo..oothly complements FWCS

This morning's JG Perspective contains a letter from State Superintendent Tony Bennett complementing FWCS for getting with the program and saving NSHS and SSHS from a state takeover. How they escaped after looking at their ECA passing rates is still a mystery but nobody cares about that now. What the letter illustrates is Bennett's skill in turning a phrase to make shoving reforms down their throats palatable. Here are some excerpts followed by their translations:

"FWCS, under Robinson's leadership , implemented robust reforms....."
She accepted the reforms mandated by the Cambridge group on behalf of the IDE.

"The district was proactive and compressed a five year turnaround plan into one year..".
They sat on their butts for five years and got serious one year before being taken over.

"FWCS board president Mark GiaQuinta even recognized the state's role in encouraging swift improvement at NS and SS."
He admitted nothing would have changed without the threat of a state takeover.

"FWCS took on the status quo directly by eliminating seniority based placements.."
They complied with Cambridge mandates and the reforms passed by the Republican legislature, reforms which Mark and brother Phil, who ran away to Peoria to try and stop them, publicly opposed.

"FWCS proves that more can be done with less and funding is not an impassable obstacle.."
Quit whining about money.

"But don't forget Robinson's words: it's not enough. Keep up the momentum..."
I'm going to be breathing down your neck from now on.

Couldn't have said it smoo...oother myself. Obviously.