SCHOOL CONSTRUCTION UNNECESSARY, BUT THE SUITS WANT IT, MAKING IT A DONE DEAL; COSTS COULD TOP $200 MILLION … TAXPAYERS, GUESS WHO WILL BE PAYING? GOTTA MIRROR?
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEEKEND EDITION, AUG. 1-3, 2014) — The headline in The Boring Broadsheet said it all: “Committee wants new school: In a 16-1 vote, the School Building Needs Committee chooses the most expensive option.”
The SBNC paid lip services to a “concern for high costs,” but bottom line is that the SBNC caved to The Suits, who are dictating policy.
“This is a new milestone for this commission and the city of Pittsfield,” said Kathy Amuso, co-chair of the SBNC and councilor-at-large. Right. Thus far, the SBNC has been kept away from the power tools. This time, the power saw is plugged in and hovering over the taxpayers’ wallets. The city’s ”new milestone” is stepping so assuredly toward a financial meltdown.
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New THS Construction Not Justified
The time is long gone to say “no” to the continued, reckless raid on the public’s funds by the “leaders” and policy makers of Pittsfield. The overblown budget was bad enough, with taxes rising another 5%. The proposed “overbuilding” of a “$130 million” campus to replace Taconic High School, however, cannot be justified on the grounds its supporters have presented.
The initial estimated cost is $125.5 million, but after cost overruns, delays, re-dos, and the like, it will likely hit $200 million. That will allow for kickbacks, payoffs, bribes, and other “inducements,” if any, should they be part of the deal, not that such a thing would or could happen in Pittsfield.
Communities more enlightened than Pittsfield (Pittsburgh, Pa.; Seattle, Wash.; Orange County, Calif.; Great Barrington, Mass.; to name a few) have rejected this raid on the taxpayers’ treasury, the old “let’s go crazy and build schools.”
Supporters of “bilden unerfahren schule” (as we say in German) have framed the argument so that opposition — even the most analytical, accurate, and astute — comes off as a form of child abuse. Remember, its always for “The Children.”
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In Some Places, Taxpayers Actually Say ‘No’ to ‘The Suits.’
In South County, voters rejected a $50 million renovation of Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington. In a previous column, THE PLANET wrote about a scandal that has strapped Broward County, Fla., taxpayers. There, school officials in cahoots with local contractors, lobbyists, and government officers borrowed $350 million for excess, unneeded school construction projects. The debt service on the loans are crippling residents.
In Wake County, Georgia, the Raleigh News Observer reports, “leaders of the Wake County Taxpayers Association charged Wednesday that the proposed $810 million school construction bond issue is not needed and will create an excessive tax burden for people.”
Broward County taxpayers are enraged that their school superintendent hired 1,800 new teachers in spite of plunging attendance. It’s part of the game played by cities and communities across America: School Funding Bunco. The Suits (an amalgam of local big shots, elected officials, and other “players”) pick taxpayers dry by seeing that toady school boards and commissions allow the heists. The makeup of such boards and committee, as well as most positions of power, come from a “safe list” of local lap dogs, “community pillars” all. The Suits then use public apathy and private money to rig elections.
At the top of this scheme, you will often find a superintendent with a contract so rich that he or she doesn’t dare challenge why enrollments and academic performance are dropping.
As in Pittsfield, school committees sing unqualified praise for the superintendent in dense, vacuous language sure to snuff out any remaining sparks of citizen interest in the government they own. Here’s an example from an article published on BrowardBeat.com:
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School Board Chair Laurie Rich Levinson read a long list of “achievements” [superintendent] Runcie “accomplished.” Here is some of them in typical school system gobbledygook:
“Creation of the cadre director model to provide administrative support and mentoring opportunities for our school based leaders; the development of an academics division to align the work of four critical administrative support areas…the establishment of a portfolio services division to comprehensively manage the District’s portfolio of schools and innovative programs, the innovation of new support services department like the Business Support Center; a department centrally servicing the budget and bookkeeping needs….a program management model for the management of the District’s capital construction program….”
Confused? Here is one Runcie achievement in plain language:
“The District was able to hire approximately 1,890 new teachers in 2012 (The District non-renewed over 1,400 teachers in the year prior to Superintendent Runcie’s appointment)…”
(Don’t you just love that phrase “non-renewed?”)
Of course, no mention of why the school system needed 1,800 more teachers since the enrollment has been dropping. The Sun-Sentinel reported September 11 that the “district-run schools saw a drop of 2,500” students this year, while charter schools gained 4,300.
“With the outcome of the bond issue to be decided on Oct. 8, leaders of the anti-tax group said they were “laying out all their guns” Wednesday to urge the public to reject the measure. Opponents of the bond issue attacked the academic performance of the school district while charging that enrollment projections are inflated and that there are thousands of empty seats in the district.”
“It seems to us the school board consistently overestimates student needs, growth projections, student achievement and their financial wants to justify new and extravagant spending,” said Ed Jones, chairman of the taxpayers association, in a video produced by the group. “And they consistently ignore the impact of ever higher and higher taxes on the people of Wake County. That must change.”
Early voting has begun on a bond measure that would pay for most of a $939.9 million construction program that includes 16 new schools, six major renovation projects, smaller repairs at 79 schools and other projects.
With the election less than two weeks away, both sides are becoming more active. On Tuesday, supporters of the bonds held a news conference at Garner High School to drum up support, saying passage would help Wake keep up with projections that show that enrollment could grow by as many as 20,000 students by 2018, to more than 170,000.”
That was in September 2013. Voters rejected the measure.
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Costs ‘Unknown,” State Reimbursement Uncertain
At a recent meeting of the SBNC, Carl Franceschi of DRA Architects presented this gem: Franceschi said final costs would be 25% higher than the construction estimates. The SBNC let the remark passed unchallenged. Franceschi repeated the “warning” again this week.
The state is “expected” to cover 80% of the construction costs. Actual reimbursement, however, could be far less than that since the Commonwealth’s formula for reimbursement changes based on “rules and standards” no one locally seems to understand. This was repeated again on Monday. Franchesechi said the state would not cover the maximum of 80% of the costs.
For example, the state only covers about 8% of site work. Also, the state allows a maximum of $287/sq. ft. in reimbursement for building a new school. Franceschi said Pittsfield costs would be $360/sq/ft., per square foot. The consultant admitted the state’s reimbursement figures “lag reality.”
“I’m a little nervous that if we pick one of the [design] options, we won’t know the costs down the road,” Franceschi said.
He’s a “little nervous.” The SBNC, the school superintendent, the school committee, the city council, and the mayor aren’t nervous at all, since they have made up their minds to build the THS albatross, regardless of the cost or the community’s ability to pay.
Comforting thought, eh?
“Freedom is an illusion.” — Voice of supercomputer Colossus (voiced by Paul Frees), Colossus: The Forbin Project, (1971).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.