Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Survey says: "??????"

Monday night the board decided to bond for $119 million of the $240 million they say they need. The NS said only 800 non district employees responded to the online survey and 0nly 140 attended the four public meetings. Since the total dollars are unchanged, apparently what they found out in the survey and meetings had no influence on the scope of the project. They picked a number for the May referendum which will have a chance of success with the voters. They can come back and try for the rest later after demonstrating their competence in the first phase.

Their spreadsheet scope listed about $23 million for structural (the buildings are falling, the buildings are falling) repairs. The assumed 25% professional costs are way more than they need for fixing what's broken so they will actually have over $90 million to spend any way they want. They're supposed to put a detailed scope on their website so it doesn't look like we're giving them a blank check. Then we'll have to see if they stick to it.

The mandatory public hearing and vote will be on Dec.12. If you're thinking of going and speaking, just remember it will already be a done deal and the vote a formality. But there might be a band playing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

FWCS project - "Air conditioning , etc."

The FWCS entourage gave another presentation about their $250 million building proposal at Harrison Hill, my former Jr. High School, a classic building from 1924 which still looks great. The dozen or so in the audience who were not district employees were honored with some Mark GiaQuinta oratory followed by a slide show on various building problems and an explanation of the financial aspects by Kathy Friend.

There was little detail given on the actual work to be done in each building. The work is listed in three catgories - structural, learning environment and safety. The structural part was almost all HVAC with a heavy emphasis on AC, accounting for nearly 50% of the total project dollars. Actually fixing structural stuff like walls, windows, masonry, etc. accounts for about 15%. That's the aging and deterioration they've been whining about for years. Learning environment is about improving the cosmetics. If I had presented something like this to corporate management, they would have picked it apart in five minutes and sent me packing. That's what the board should do but that won't happen. GiaQuinta gets pissed off driving to work past Imagine on Broadway every morning knowing it's air conditioned. This will allow him arrive at the office in a better mood to deal with turnip bombs.

Apparently the project will be tackled and bonded in three phases of $120 MM, and two more at $60 MM. The district may actually put the first phase on the May primary ballot themselves. If it doesn't make it to the ballot, the project would take money still available under the caps away from all the other taxing entities that might want to use it. If it's approved in a referendum it all goes on top of the caps, and won't affect anyone else. At least that's the way Kathy Friend explained it and I tend to believe her.

They tried to explain how this "deterioration" all came about without mentioning the $150 million diverted to racial balance over the last 22 years. Last time that was their excuse although then they couldn't explain what the other $350 million was for. Now they're only talking about the money they've lost more recently to the caps and the bad economy, although they're still spending millions on racial balance every year. When I brought that up at the end of the meeting, it didn't go over well with Wendy.

Last time the JG called $500 million "sensible". In the Sunday Perspective Karen Frisco called $250 mllion "modest". (Another columnist on Page 3 called American public education "abysmal".) So now we know mathematically that "sensible" x 1/2 = "modest". By extension we could postulate that "arrogance" x 2 = ("M" + "W").

Saturday, November 5, 2011

What do voucher defections mean?

At this point, not much. Since this is the first year of the program, there is no precedent to gauge the significance of 400 departures. The number is roughly the same as Indianapolis and South Bend. About 85% of them were on free or reduced lunch, so they're probably not losing the better students. But those that left all had some experience in district schools which presumably factored into their decisions.

If I were running We Are Your Schools, I would try to talk to every parent who pulled their kids out and find out why they did that. Of course sharing what you hear with We Are Your Taxpayers is a different question.