School Board Follies

What the hey:

Committee members were given a “fly-over view” PowerPoint presentation of the new high school by ATS&R architects. The new 400,000 square foot school will feature an all brick exterior with contrasting colors to give the building a prairie-style look. Other features include a glassed-in clock tower that will hold the original clock of the former high school that was located on the site where Clinton Rosette now stands. The facility will include a 2500-seat capacity competitive gymnasium plus an athletic field house. According to a report in the Northern Star the facility may have a football stadium as well.

Let’s review. They’ve chosen brick over precast, which would have saved mightily on labor costs. They’ve refused to downsize in spite of the dramatic change in projected enrollment, and they’ve rejected the idea to leave the clock tower as a project for private funding. Somehow we ended up with a field house in the plan, the indoor track has lengthened, and a verbal (FPC) agreement to provide stadium “infrastructure” has turned into a proposal to build the entire stadium.

BTW, last month at the Facilities Planning Committee meeting, Dr. Briscoe asked the architects to look into the cost of building new elementary schools as part of the Phase 2 “equity referendum” discussion.

We’re on the verge of a Big D and they’re still spending money like drunken sailors. My apologies to sailors, actually: at least they spend their own money and they get a grip once they sober up.

25 thoughts on “School Board Follies”

  1. At one of the summer meetings, I SAID NO CLOCK TOWER.

    I SAID MY MOTHER IS A RETIRED ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL, SHE KNOWS OF MANY STUPID, EXPENSIVE DECISIONS THAT OTHER SCHOOLS MADE, SPECIFICALLY ONE SCHOOL THAT *WASTED* A HALF-MILLION DOLLARS ON A CLOCK TOWER.

  2. This is the perfect example of the architect designing the building not the buyer.

    The finalization of the clock was never discussed at a meeting that I was at. I have only missed one meeting and that was October 8th. There could’ve been another subcommittee meeting in there but they really have been bouncing the schedule around the past few weeks to get the grade school started.

    They are definitely into the spending of the contingency money right now. There is a reason that the contingency fund is there and it’s not for a football stadium, it’s not for astroturf, it’s not for a 200 meter track in fact I doubt that the indoor track even at 160 meter was in the plan originally. Hard to tell with the plan they showed pre referendum.

    It is because of the stadium and the indoor fieldhouse that the FPC couldn’t knock the core size and the classroom count down for the lower number of students now forecasted by the school district approved demographer “Hazel”. She is now forecasting 500 plus less students in the high school than pre referendum. Many things are to have caused this number but the fact that 6,000 homes shall not be built in the 10 years post referendum is a big part of that.

    Folks, that 600 homes per year for 10 years straight. Rediculous even pre referendum and downturn but many of the good people on the FPC trusted those who were feeding them these numbers. Let’s also throw in misnumbers for several other subdivisions that were yet to yield home construction in the upcoming years but hey, those subdivisions were built out pre referendum.

    I apologize to the good people of DeKalb for voting and supporting this referendum. I too trusted. I still firmly believe that the school was needed but yes folks, we now have the Taj Mahal of Taj Mahal’s and what is the cost to be. DeKalb CANNOT afford this school as it is ending up.

    We just will not have the new EAV to pay the bond, well at least as proposed to us pre referendum. I’m sorry to say that there will be substantial increases to the homeowner whether annually or the fact that they will extend the bond years out. There will not be enough new construction over the years of this bond to help the current homeowner keep lower payments. I still would like to know how the school board is going to start spending the recent check they received from the Target warehouse, even though it is a reduced tax year for them, it should still be a sizeable amount of money. The board isn’t talking about that are they?

    Dr. Briscoe. I’m disappointed that you actually have done completely opposite of what you spoke of in your interview for superintendent. You in fact sir have fueled runaway spending. I must warn you sir that you need to start looking for other monetary sources for the second part of the referendum. This community will remember the misuse and abuse of trust with this referendum and just when we got the community to believe and trust again, our school board under the leadership of Michael Verbic have literally nuked that trust.

    Dr. Briscoe, this community dug very deep to support this last referendum. It gave the school board the money to build decent schools, no Taj Mahal’s, just good sound learning environments. We didn’t vote for pricey indoor fieldhouses or football stadiums, no sir, those were brought up as being supported privately. The clock, ridiculous to what this is going to end up costing. Maybe a local bank would be interested in funding and sponsoring this, sir the taxpayers cannot at this time.

    I have been told by several well knowledged money people that for every $1 that you save on a 20 year bond you have actually saved $3. $2 being the interest. My goal was to cut $8 million to $12 million from both the grade school and high school. This would have made a $24 million to $36 million reduction in the homeowners responsibility of repaying. I am to say the least very frustrated.

    Finding out about Athletic Director Dan Jones’ plan to ask for the astroturf to be added to the bid process through the Northern Star, the Chronicle I guess didn’t feel that this story was real important. If the track is being bumped up to 200 meters, that is more of a crime and now the fact that NIU is going to coop within the new high school throws out any savings that we may have realized by not furnishing the extra classrooms not to be used due the the lowered numbers of students.

    I forever, will remember the names of this school board if they allow this to happen. I will forever bring each board members name up for the years to come to remind people who put them into financial duress. This I promise to do. I couldn’t help within the FPC but Lord knows I can make this promise.

  3. Not defending the school board. I too am very upset especially if a stadium is being snuck in; that would be an outright lie.

    I tilted toward the pre-cast approach but the brick versus pre-cast fight was a disagreement between professionals. Any sense of the additional cost of the clock tower; continuity with the past is important but at a reasonable cost. Once the core was locked in concrete (or brick I guess) shrinking the school saved very little money, but that approach did beg
    the question.

    During the Saturday technical session right before the vote, the financial people pointed out the bump in revenue from Target was going to go right to the payments of the bond. Who knows if this is still the case, but that is what I was told when I asked.

    Anyway I have written a strong letter of inquiry regarding the stadium to the school board and if the stadium is being added in, I will be talking with Ivan as I will join him in a ballistic orbit. Now that’s an image: Herb and Ivan talking finances in a small orbiting satellite.

    Herb

  4. I left a message at the Star to find out more about how this played out and will let you know when I hear from them.

    The figures actually seem low for a complete stadium. I wonder if they are simply over-stepping their bounds on all the “stadium infrastructure” they’ve talked about before, instead.

    Still, even if that’s true, the overruns–what’s going to put us deeply in the hole–are that the school board is enabling a sports complex within a Taj Mahal, as Ivan says.

    One would think that the H.S. athletics department is in charge, not the superintendent nor the board.

  5. They can take the football stadium and shove it up their astro turf.

    Athletics is exactly why the previous referendums failed. They probably knew that, and engaged in the trickery that I talked about for months with hiding that field house ever since the Pat Bragg show at the Egyptian Theatre. People asked for the Ford and the Chevy, not the Cadillac, and it sounds like we will get a Bentley for athletics.

    Astro turf is bad enough for the pro football men who are done growing but that is just wrong to put kids on that on purpose. Go look at the research on grass vs. astro turf vs. field turf that were NOT funded by the astro turf or field turf people. High school football season ends earlier enough in the year, before there is solid freezing of the ground. If they go with field turf, it wears out more quickly and has to be replaced more frequently than astro turf. Unfrozen ground (grass) is better at reducing the risk of injuries.

    It was obvious to me that the precast was a major step toward safety if (when) there is a tornado. If the professionals were not interested in anything that might keep kids safer in case of an emergency, then something is wrong with their priorities.

    It is obvious to me that this is all about status and the people in charge will have to work hard to prove to me that they actually give a damn about the kids.

  6. My understanding is that somewhere around $3.6 million in private funds. I believe that they started doing math and Dan Jones figured that there was already an allowance of $350,000.00 for turf on the practice field (now to be a full fledged stadium). Using administrator logic in that the district spends $37,000.00 per year to rent NIU stadium and over the next 10 years that would be $370,000.00 which Jones would like to see put into the astroturf.

    I wonder if this is the push on bringing “pride” to the football players of DeKalb High School. DeKalb played its homecoming on a Saturday afternoon this year. Hot, bees flying around the field, over heating due to the time they were playing. I’ll tell you, I’d rather have played at night when it was cooler. I’m sure the fans would have agreed also. Oh, I’m sorry, silly me. How else would you promote putting lights on the new stadium? Someone help me, did the Barbs win that afternoon homecoming game at their own high school field?

    We are in a serious economic crunch right now. Maybe they’ll realize it when the county sends them their share of the real estate taxes this year and it is smaller than normal due to lack of payment from people who just can’t or due to homes that are foreclosing.

    This is really not as much to do with having a football stadium or a state of the art indoor fieldhouse as much as it just plain shows how out of touch the school administration is and how our school board just doesn’t get it. I’m for great education but I’m trying to figure out why it is so important for the indoor fieldhouse and football stadium all of a sudden. Many a student as graduated from DeKalb High without these 2 items are are doing very well for themselves.

    You know, they did a great job selling the referendum. My hat is off to them. Not once in the Chronicle depiction of a day or any of the student commentaries nor the tours given including the presentations at the high school or the Egyptian theatre was it brought up that the children were suffering due to not having an indoor track or football stadium. It was all about the necessary core structure. Cafeteria, auditorium, teacher offices, classrooms and ventilation, HALLWAY overcrowding. At least that’s what I thought they were complaining about.

  7. The attitude of folks (speaking generally) in public education is that education has infinite value and thus, any amount of resources can and should be used to facilitate it. Therefore if you challenge runaway spending like this you are anti-child.

    The brutal reality is that public secondary education, especially in DeKalb, does not have infinite value. You need to get up to the Master’s Degree level before you can start talking about an education level versus monetary benefit scale becoming open-ended.

    It’s all well and good to talk about your frustration here about how much the taxpayers are going to be raped by this, but if you’re serious about bringing this to and end you will need to lawyer up and seek an injunction to cease construction of the high school until the district comes up with an acceptable plan.

    And about why the Chronicle is silent about this, we’ve already gone over it. School district –> Renew our Schools Chamber of Commerce Daily Chronicle. Even the bumbling Northern Star is talking more about it than the establishment would like.

  8. I was a very active supporter of the referendum. I totally supported the need for adequate facilities for classroom education as well as sufficient space for gymnasium based physical education. At no time, though, was there any hint that the referendum would cover a football stadium or the like.

    If the stadium ends up as part of the deal, except through private funding, I will be seriously disillusioned. I have written and asked.

    Again, on the building material. If I had vote I would have gone for pre-cast but recognized that the pre-cast versus brick sides of the argument both had legitimate technical support.

    I see the stadium and pre-cast questions as quite separate. If the stadium is built with referendum money I would consider that a lie and be upset. The pre-cast issue to me is a technical one on which reasonable people could disagree .

    Herb

  9. Anon is right. If the Chronicle were going to pick this up, it would have done so last week. I have not heard back from the Star yet, but don’t really expect to until tomorrow.

    Anybody want to discuss anon’s remarks off-blog is welcome to e-mail me at yinn422ATyahooDOTcom.

  10. I’m not even talking about the precast vs. brick. I’ve been included in discussions with the precast people and even the people from DuKane precast as stated that insulating the wall on the interior side, adding any kind of a brick look or some type of lines for patterns would add cost for each step. Each different panel would require a different panel. A significant cost savings would only come if we could design parts of the school with a repetitive pattern. The way the school has been designed doesn’t allow for this to happen.

    We are in a serious economic downturn in this community. Ours of course isn’t the only one but let’s discuss DeKalb. There just are not enough high paying jobs in this area to support the 6,000 homes that the district had counted on prior to the referendum. The proposed work that Shodeen is going to do in the DeKalb area will not have an immediate effect on EAV or retail sales tax. I’m skeptical about how we will fill all of the commercials spaces on top of the empty ones we currently have.

    With the banking industry the way they are today, no one can predict how much money will be available for people who wish to start up small businesses that will fill these store fronts. I do honestly believe that Shodeen Development will have to import buyers for their luxury condos downtown or be a very big part in bringing the commuter train to DeKalb. If gas prices stay over $3.00 plus, commuting will not be desirable for many in fact I do know of a good amount of people who have already moved back east of 47.

    Shodeen’s apartments on the east end of town is just plain going to erupt the old neighborhoods where there are many rental units today. I’m afraid that we will see more assisted housing and even property owners looking into having there properties approved for Section 8. I do understand the need for this type of housing but this community is already at its limits for this type of housing. It takes a strong community with many extra dollars to spend to properly support these types of housing assistance and DeKalb is no longer that community.

    What is the big deal to spend that money today? What are we getting monetarily from NIU for opening up the new high school to them? Hey, how about cut the cost of the stadium for our football team, maybe even throw in a free year or so. Is NIU going to purchase the equipment necessary for the rooms that they will be using or are the taxpayers going to pay up front for these chairs and desks etc? That was a good chunk of money that we didn’t have to spend right up front and the high school principal agreed.

    Why is the park district not involved with this? District 428 keeps saying that there is money to be made having the indoor track and a home football stadium. I propose right now, that any money made on the grounds of the new high school from the indoor track or the football stadium go directly to paying the referendum down. You know what the chance of that happening is?

    I have no problem with giving this community a state of the art high for the purpose of education. Personally, the indoor track and the home stadium does nothing but make it more convenient for the administration. Of course the astroturf to eliminate rain outs and the indoor track so rainy springs don’t cancel or postpone meets. All of these basketball courts and practice areas so that the days become a little bit shorter and for what cost are we going to pay for this convenience?

    I would imagine that there will still be an outdoor track around the football field. Why 2 tracks? I still have not seen the budget that it will take to maintain these grounds and school. I would hope that they intend to take care of this facility better than the current one. I’m not sure that they have they money in the budget to handle this. What if property values drop and the school district receives much less money over the next 4 to 5 years than they have been receiving? To me, there are so many questions that are left far too open at this time. Too far open to allow this school to be built.

    Remember folks, the more expensive this school gets the more the architect gets paid, Cha ching . . .

    How long is it from now that public school fees will amount to numbers like $1,200.00 or $2,100.00. With spending like the district is doing, a new revenue flow will have to come from somewhere.

  11. The cost of renting the stadium is nominal somthing like $600.00 per game but when you rent the stadium you also have to pay the NIU employees that man the stadium. A electrician, plumber ect that drives to cost to over 3k per event.

    Like everything else it is the cost of the employees that send things out of wack.

    Also it is not the football stadium and fieldhouse that is my concern. All schools have them. It is the misrepresentation that they would be paid by private sources when we were asked to vote that gets me. I wonder who this donor was that was going to donate 5m towards this project that now seems to be backing out.

    Pevo

  12. Herb, since there really has been no referendum for the police station, I’m thinking that there is a little difference here. What is being designed for the high school was not part of the prereferendum discussions.

    Football stadium has always been a privatized project for the high school. I’m not sure that the prereferendum plans had the indoor field house with track.

    I just believe that some common sense must come into play now. With the current state that this economy is in, it is utterly irresponsible to be adding bells and whistles to a project such as this school.

    I’m also thinking that it may be in the best interest now to consider lowering the square footage of the police station. The cost must come down 3 to 4 million dollars. As I said earlier, for every dollar not spent in essence is $3.00 that doesn’t need to be paid back. This would be a $9 to 12 million cost reduction in what the taxpayers would have to pay back.

    These are the times we are in today. Every house hold is figuring how to cut expenses and pay off their debt right now. Our local government entities should be thinking the same way.

  13. I was just reading DeKalb County Online and started thinking about the grade school site in Cortland. Now that the school district has paid the taxes for the subdivisions developer, I hope they don’t put anymore dollars into the site work or construction of the school until the actual deed for the property is in hand.

    I’d hate to see the school district actually end up paying for the land to get the deed released next.

  14. Ivan

    I see alot of your points but I disagree with lowering the size of the police station. I agree that costs MUST come down but it shoujld not be accopmplished by cutting back on the current and future needs of the community. IMO the city needs a new police department! What we CANNOT afford is paying some of it’s firefighters and other city employees over $100,00.00 in salary and continuing to give raises during these times.

    Someday we will start to ask the real hard questions. The real hard questions are not; How can we afford a new police station, How can we afford a Ice Rink, How can we afford to Renew DeKalb.

    The hard question is why we Can’t afford it.

    The reason we cannot afford the real needs of the community is because we are paying way overboard on our salaries and benefits to the employees.

    Cutting back on the buulding needs of the city while we continue to give 4% cost of livings raises as well as step increaseis IMO the wrong way to spend the tax payers dollars.

    Until the city gets the salaries under control people will continue to state that we cannot afford these or any other projects.

    Again the real hard question should not be how can we afford this but rather why can’t we afford this.

    Respectfully
    Pevo

  15. I have not seen anything with the police station that makes me think there is any kind of deception going on anywhere. There is good evidence that the police station folks listened to the citizens and considered several alternatives in the funding, and made attempts to try to make paying for it fair. I have yet to see any kind of arrogance whatsoever.

    I do not think I have time to make a list of all of the things that I do not like that are going on with the schools.

    For the city money, I saw in today’s Chronicle that the airport wants to buy more land and expand. WHAT!!!?????? On whose money!!!???? NOT MINE!!!!!!

    No more. No more projects like that. Sorry. I did not like wasteful projects that have done nothing but throw money into a rat hole that has never been profitable, when it should be. Now, with the economic situation completely changed, we MUST ELIMINATE EVERYTHING that is NOT a NECESSITY.

    Seriously, I would like to see no more fluff ReNew TIF projects for private businesses. No one can afford them anymore. A long time ago, I tried to advocate that ReNew should actually function like a real non-profit and engage in micro-loans at low to no interest rates. Have a pool of money raised by non-profit donations, let businesses, whomever borrow that, and after they make their improvements and start paying it back, more people can borrow from the fund. They do that in Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. I met the guy who runs the Savannah program and I saw before and after pictures of the improved properties. They don’t do that on taxpayer money, and neither should ReNew.

    While no one has been watching, other entities are planning on raising their taxes. The county is planning raising something (cannot remember what or for how much, although .5 is in my memory banks for some reason) and Kish College is planning on raising theirs, too.

    If the reality of the economic situation has not yet sunk in, it is very bad. I talked to someone in town whose husband’s 401K dropped $35,000, and a retired couple whose funds dropped around $100,000.

    We do not yet know how bad this is going to get and worst case scenario, I want a very good police force with the facilities they need..

    The airport is not even anywhere near the list of what should be priorities.

    The school people had an opportunity to be heroes to save some money to make themselves popular for Boondoggle and Deception Part II (a.k.a. Phase II) and they blew it.

  16. OK Pevo, but until the problems with the out of control salaries are in control and more realistic to what this community can pay, how does this community pay for everything that is coming down the pipe. Bonds for the downtown project, bonds for the police station, bonds for the schools and lord knows what is around the corner. I’m still hearing that the city is now considering what to do with the south side fire station before they lose the land offered them on Taylor. Not sure what the stipulation is on the land and time frame to build.

    I went and had a breakfast at the Junction, the trail blazer with coffee and the sales tax alone was $1.38. I don’t know how we’re going to make or keep asking homeowner’s who are fighting to survive and pay the necessities if we just keep adding taxes.

    I was hoping that the city council would have honkered down and made some cuts in their budget to find the money but they didn’t. Maybe government entities should be forced to come up with 20% of the money up front before starting a project like we all have to. Maybe they would think,plan and save a little bit more.

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