School Maintenance – another gift of the Red Plan

Today’s DNT readers learned that we are negotiating to get an acceptable offer to sell Nettleton School.

Selling our empty schools was always part of the poorly executed Red Plan financing and we were led to believe they would be much more remunerative than they have proven to be. In fact, all of them have been white elephants except for the Woodland property that now has the extensive Blue Stone development sitting atop the land. Meanwhile the empty buildings impose annual maintenance and heating costs on our strained District finances.

Although I have been censured by our Board previously by blogging about prospective buyers let me add this to the story. Another larger offer was made on Nettleton which we are not pursuing even though we have no current agreement with the buyers mentioned in today’s story. Unlike the buyer mentioned by the Trib the second more generous offer that we are not considering would not involve razing Nettleton. I’m in the minority on this deal.

Loren Martell’s lengthy column in this week’s Reader digs deeply into a subject that I haven’t touched for years – How the District will pay for the long term maintenance of all the new buildings that were built in one massive eruption of construction:

The larger point is: while we spend so much money on Old Central over the next ten years, much of the maintenance in our new or like-new buildings, already deferred five years, is also going to be deferred further down the road. (Some of the earliest “like-new” Red Plan buildings, such as Stowe Elementary, are already nearly ten years old.) During this February’s Business Committee meeting, our school board, ever desperate for funds in the wake of the failed Red Plan, advocated deferring even more maintenance.

We just blew half a billion on a problem blamed on poor maintenance and maintenance is again being shoved onto the back burner.
The repairs and renovations of Old Central ($17,899,595) are scheduled to consume 71% of the money district 709 intends to spend for facilities maintenance in its current ten-year plan. All the other facilities combined are only scheduled for $7,364,508 of repair and maintenance. Subtracting $850,000 just for the new roof on Lakewood Elementary leaves about $6.5 million (or $650,000 a year) to maintain all the other buildings, every one not really made “like-new.”

Obviously the district is already stretched thin to properly maintain and protect the obscenely expensive investment we just made in our school buildings.

I’ve frequently mentioned the other financial shortcomings brought about by the Red Plan. 1. Spending down the Reserve. 2. negotiating higher teacher salaries to avoid labor conflicts during construction. 3. Funneling millions each year from the General Fund’s classroom money to pay for the Red Plan costs that kept ballooning. 4. Laying off teachers to pay for the Red Plan. 5. An exodus of students making use of Open Enrollment. To this list we must add 6. the failure to set aside the cost of ongoing upkeep for our shiny new schools. It was typical of the previous Board to add things like glorious swimming pools to the Red Plan during the orgasm of construction. That’s why they decided not to spend the $18 million set aside for the semi-decrepit, National Historical landmark – Old Central. That would be a problem for future schools boards to deal with. Just add that cost to the Red Plan.

Its ironic that the Red Plan was pushed down our throats with the accusation that our buildings had not been maintained making it necessary to build all new schools to keep up with 21st century needs. Now at the start of the new century we are once again behind the eight ball of inadequate maintenance for these new buildings.

Here’s a historical footnote from my first couple years on the school board 1996-97. Supt. Mark Myles pissed off teacher’sunion President Frank Wanner by plowing money into long term maintenance instead of teacher contracts. Myles compounded this by promising to spend voter approved levies for building up a reserve fund and after he’d accomplished that for new programming but not increases in existing teacher’s salaries. It can be argued that Myles wasn’t very diplomatic but he had the best interest of needy kids very much in mind. you can get a glimpse of his priorities in as his recent letter to the Trib.