The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
It is the most wonderful time of the year. Well, unless you are trying to get any real business done and then it is the most frustrating time of the year. That is the position that the Department of Education finds itself in, as they struggle to fund the White Pine School renovation project. Now, before anyone gets edgy and starts to place the blame on the County Commission or the Budget Committee, there is some important information that needs to be considered.
First, the White Pine project was funded, at least in the eyes of the County Commission. It was during the last School Board meeting that the Board changed the parameters for funding- Parameters that had already been approved by the County Commission. The Board decided to forgo funding any other capital projects and redirect the funds for their approved capital projects plan toward the White Pine School project, leaving the Department of Education with no funding for any needs beyond White Pine School, despite the fact that a funded capital projects list was a mandate from the Budget Committee. Why did the budget committee make the mandate? Because the Department of Education had a plethora of “emergency” projects in the past few years, things that should have been identified as needs and funded way before they became “emergency” needs. To avoid writing the big, unexpected, check the budget committee asked for the capital projects list.
When the White Pine School project came in way, way over budget-like 30% over budget- the budget committee suggested that the School Board might look at hiring another architect that could come up with a plan inside of budget. Instead, the School Board in a 2-5 vote decided to just bump the capital projects needs in the other schools in the County and divert those funds to the White Pine project. Now the budget committee will be meeting jointly with the School Board this week and I don’t expect it to all be mistletoe and holly. There is concern about the redirection of funds and there is serious anxiety that the way over budget price tag does not even include professional roof installation. Remember that this is the same Commission that had to fund the renovation of Jefferson County High School Building 8 because of a roof collapse.
I will be honest. I don’t understand diverting funds from other necessary capital projects to fund an overblown budget for renovation. Why is the School Board so against checking with another architect to see if the project can meet the budget? We are talking about a lot of money, tax payer money. They keep touting time as an issue but this project is already so far behind that it is a moot point. They already have the plans for the kitchen renovation. Why not go ahead and tackle that project while getting a second opinion on the other parts of the renovation?. And, in my opinion, it is a very bad idea to rob Peter to pay Paul. If we don’t keep up with the needs at other schools they will soon be needing major renovations.
At the end of the day, the planned renovation to White Pine School is barely a band aid. White Pine needs a much bigger, more intensive project than the School Board can afford. They will need the help of the County Commission to do what really needs to be done and it will come with a steep price tag. So, the School Board should do what they can with the money that they have. They need to show the County Commission that they are good stewards of the people’s money and that means checking with another architect to make sure that we are getting the most bang for the buck. It also means not putting other school’s project needs on hold and at risk by robbing their funding. A fully funded capital projects list is important to the County Commission and therefore it should be important to the School Board.
Nobody wants to say it but soon we are going to have to consider a long term fix for a long term problem of over crowding and it needs to start with a middle school at the White Pine area of the County. It will alleviate overcrowding at multiple schools if the DOE rezones. If you know that you are going to need major funding for a major project and you know that you must have the blessing of the budget committee and the County Commission then it would appear to be prudent to play well with others.
The reality is that it is more likely that this combination meeting will come and go with very little accomplished. At least five members of the School Board appear to be willing to throw all in for the White Pine project. It would be my bet that more than five members of the budget committee do not share the School Board’s conviction. If history is any indication, this will not be a holly jolly meeting. Ho Ho Ho here we go!