Thursday, March 27, 2008

Beware the Round Numbers

After reviewing my monthly bank statement I made a startling discovery. Not one singular purchase came out to a round figure. Plenty of charges like $21.37 or $178.84, but not a single payment for a even number like $350.

Perhaps the architecture, bond financing and construction industries operate under a different reality from the rest of us. It could be that adding a new 8-lane track at Mead Middle School will cost $750,000 on the dot as suggested on the USD 259 website. Maybe adding a new library and converting the old library to a classroom at Emerson Elementary is going to cost taxpayers precisely $900,000 as claimed by the USD259 Public Relations department.

Another possibility exists....all the numbers proposed as part of the 2008 Bond Issue are, at best, simple guesses as to the costs associated with the projects. I'll use the lovely Bond Issue Fact Booklet for some analysis.

Reviewing the cost for each school there are plenty of nice round numbers. Adding up the total cost it looks like, yep, the costs for all the projects adds up to $350 million. That factors in a rather odd final number $2,846,000 for "land acquisition/inflation". That final number supposes that the costs for the new buildings didn't include the cost for property. Even without any additional land expenses, it would appear that a $350 million dollar project, with construction spread out over at least 5 years, would only plan on 0.08% for inflation.

Based on the breakdown of expenses provided by the district, it also appears that there are no costs, expenses or fees associated with the issuance of the bonds themselves. The Board of Education resolution contemplated such fees, but the USD 259 PR department doesn't seem to have included them in any of their slick literature.

The good folks at Schaefer, Johnson, Cox, Frey Architecture who put this plan together (more on that next week) along with the District leadership, owe the voters an actual accounting of how our tax dollars will be spent, not ball park estimates that have no grounding in reality.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Planning for Something

The public relations staff at USD 259 has been touting the new bond issue proposal as important to "the continued growth and vitality of Wichita schools" and "the future of our community."

We need only look back a few short years to clearly see the abject failure of Wichita School District's attempts to project and meet future needs. Lets take a look at some of the new schools built within the last five years:

-Horace-Mann Magnet. Built in 2003. Will receive $2,400,000 under the new bond issue proposal for 4 additional classrooms, a new gym, locker rooms, and commons area. No additional student capacity is expected.

-Stucky Middle School. Built in 2003. Will receive $840,000 in additional funds for 3 new classrooms and $750,000 for an 8 lane running track, for a total of $1,590,000 in new bond funded construction.

-Washington Elementary. Built in 2003. Will not receive any new construction dollars from the proposed bond issue.

-Enterprise Elementary. Built in 2003. An additional $1,500,000 will go towards constructing 4 new classrooms, a mechanical room, additional storage rooms and a 250 seat cafeteria.

-Jackson Elementary. Built in 2004. Although Jackson is only at 86% capacity, it will receive $1,995,000 in bond money for 11 new classrooms of various kinds.

Under the current bond proposal $7,485,000 will be spent on facilities that are less than 5 years old.

As the old saying goes "if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail". The USD259 leadership has certain met both parts of that statement. Instead of building during the new construction phase when it would have been much less expensive, the district leadership expects Wichita taxpayers to pick up $7.5 million worth of their inability to adequately plan.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Moving Target

The first thing a new Superintendent of Schools might want to do is attempt figure out exactly how capacity for 150 students was suddenly lost.

The 2007 figures for building capacity (see previous post) showed College Hill elementary with capacity for 600 students. However, the bond issue fact information from the USD 259 website shows that the capacity for College Hill elementary is only 450 students.

Here are a couple more interesting notes from College Hill:

-There was a new addition built in 2006. Yet, here we are again two years later planning another addition.

-The projected capacity of College Hill will remain at 600, even under the 2008 bond issue plan.

-The District will spend $600,000 on a school with declining enrollment. In 2006 school year enrollment was 422 students at College Hill. In December 2007 it was 398 students.