Friday, September 10, 2010
The mad dash for the SPLOST cash
Check out item F-17 on the agenda for the board's business meeting this Monday evening, September 13:
17. William Bradley Bryant Center (WBBC) Renovation Approval
Presented by: Ms. Barbara M. Colman, Interim CIP Operations Officer
Exactly what is going on here? This is a newly listed project slated to be completed using some of the "savings" from SPLOST 3 projects that Ms. Colman refers to as "contingency" funds. This is a pet project of Ms. Tyson's. She is quoted as saying that she has been trying to get this project done for years, having done "cartwheels" and "backflips" to no avail. But now - she is in charge and her favorite project has cut to the front of the line. This project was never, ever mentioned or listed anywhere on any SPLOST budget or promotional brochure before voting. I am under the impression that the school board, by law, must use the sales tax dollars as promised - am I wrong? Who keeps changing the rules?
Ms. Tyson stated at the Dunwoody-Chamblee Parent Council meeting that the newly "found" $40 million in cost savings from under-budget SPLOST 3 programs will be allocated for projects by "her and the board". After that, she joked that "the hands went up!" What?! This is not a free for all. And this is certainly no joke. We've had a lengthy list of "needs" for a very VERY long time. This is not random money suddenly available to be used for those in power's favorite projects! This money should be put back into the till to address the very next SCHOOL project waiting patiently in this very long line. Students and their teachers should remain first and foremost on the priority list when identifying how to spend this money.
Ms. Tyson actually went on to state that she hoped everyone would vote for a SPLOST 4 because we still have so much need. She reiterated that in 2006, we identified almost $2 Billion of need in our school buildings - which we have collected $533 million of SPLOST 3 dollars for thus far to add to SPLOSTs 1&2. She even ticked off a laundry list of "needs" like roofs, HVAC, paint, carpeting, computers, windows and other major areas of deterioration. Then, I must ask, how can she disengage from the fact that she is cutting in line for this money—money that voters taxed on themselves for promised school renovations—in order to fund her own special, long-desired project at her own WBBC? I hope she will at least go around to the schools with the leaking roofs, mold, mildew, broken toilets and stairs and personally explain to them how she came to decide that the money their community paid in taxes to fix their buildings is now instead, going to fund some big data storage facility - because she wanted it!
If SPLOST proves such a temptation that even Ramona Tyson has fallen victim to wielding her power in order to grab her own personal handful of cash for her own department (that she is supposed to return to after her stint as interim super) then perhaps SPLOST has been the nail in our coffin. This school board has taken an initiative that could have profoundly impacted our children and brought magnificent change to our facilities and instead, so far, they have squandered much of it, and used it to sink us faster and deeper to the bottom. This board cannot be trusted with anymore SPLOST funds and I will personally not be supporting a SPLOST 4 in the future.
Color me disappointed, but SPLOST clearly represents the "love of money" and provides an irresistible temptation to hoard, squander, misuse, and abuse the hard-earned tax dollars of the everyday, trusting people of DeKalb. We have two top dogs under indictment proving so - costing taxpayers dearly in legal fees - both at the school level and the county level.
No more SPLOST.
UPDATE: Ok, so I went to the trouble of reviewing the board meeting online. Here's what I found out -
The "move" of the data storage from building A to the WBBC will cost $3.5 million.
We have NO IDEA why this was not moved waaaay back when the rest of building A was moved. (I will assume here that this is how they were able to spend SO much money on the new digs at Mtn Industrial - they didn't spend any money to move the entire data dept.)
So, with apologies to Ms Tyson, I get what she said now - which she couched as "saying as delicately as possible". She pleaded with everyone when the original move was done to include moving the data system - and she was completely ignored. (That would be by Dr Lewis, Pat Pope and the Board of Education I assume.)
So now, instead of having responsibly spent their allotment for moving building A by moving ALL of building A (and instead moving their own offices to plush new digs complete with $2,000 chairs), we have no choice but to go back and spend an additional $3.5 million to complete the move that should have been completed when the rest of the building was moved. (The data department is the only department left in the building.)
And yes, this money is coming out of SPLOST 3 funds -- funds that voters approved to be used as promoted very hard before the vote -- to upgrade our school buildings, HVAC, roofs, etc, as listed. As these projects have come in under budget due to lower construction costs, the unspent money goes into a large fund called "Program Contingency" (as opposed to 'project contingencies' which exist for unexpected cost overruns on each project).
The board is supposed to go on a retreat to decide how to spend this "Program Contingency" fund of $35-40 million or more. I would sincerely hope that they take the original list of promises along and fulfill as many of those as possible first and foremost. Amid this money grab, the Chamblee High School community is reeling from the news that their project has been put 'on hold' and that 'if' there is a SPLOST 4, they may see construction in 2015. Is that fair?
I don't think it's fair that this WBBC project was allowed to dip into the Project Contingency funds when no one else could - they all have to wait until the board decides at the retreat. (I would have encouraged the board at this retreat to consider outsourcing all of the data storage.) I would have hoped that this data department move to the WBBC should have at least been part of those retreat discussions and competed for placement right alongside the list of projects like unfinished roofs, HVAC, classroom technology, renovation and restroom projects in our many needy school buildings.