by Jack Minor –
A local leader of a conservative group says while he agrees that John Evans Middle School needs to be torn down, if voters do not pass a bond issue this November school board officials will have no one to blame but themselves.
The District 6 board of Education will place a ballot issue before the voters this November asking them to approve a measure that would help them obtain a $21 million grant to replace the school and build a new facility on the west side of town.
If approved the measure would allow the district to issue $8.2 million in bonds, which will be repaid over 20 years at a cost of $14 million. The language states that the bonds are only allowed to be issued if the district obtains the funds from the state Department of Education.
The $21 million grant would come from the state in the form of a Building Excellent Schools Together (BEST) grant. The grant monies are funded by revenues generated through leasing state-owned land and the oil and gas industry.
John Evans has long had problems including asbestos concerns and it is currently in need of a roof replacement. The condition of the school is such that almost no one disagrees with the suggestion that the school should be closed down.
Brian Britton, who heads up the local 9-12 Project has even said he agrees the school should be destroyed. The politically active organization is a strong proponent of government accountability and fiscal discipline within constitutional boundaries.
Britton has also said he is not opposed to building a new school or the need for the money to pay for it. “While we stand firm on unnecessary taxes and wasteful spending, there are some things that we should be willing to pay for,” Britton said.
With such a statement the board may think this means the election could be a done deal, but Britton says not so fast.
“I could be willing to support this, but I want to see some information showing exactly how this $30 million is going to be spent,” he said. “If the district is simply going to tell us to trust them with how the money will be spent and not provide any specific information before November, I will fight them on this. However, if they are willing to be upfront and show some breakdown as to where the $30 million price tag came from and exactly how it will be spent, rather than just say it’s for a new school, I would be inclined to support that.”
Currently on the District website under frequently asked questions about the grant it says voters will not have the opportunity to view items such as plans, drawings and costs for electrical, plumbing, concrete, computers, desks chairs and other items.
“Detailed blueprint drawings and bids for equipment and fixtures will not be created for this project unless we have the money to pay for architectural and engineering plans and construction. This is the same situation as was true when voters were asked to approve funding for three new elementary schools (Winograd, Romero, Heiman) and when voters were asked to approve funding for a new high school (Northridge). Voters approved the bonds for those conceptual projects, and then, after the vote, the blueprints were drawn up, construction and equipment bids were developed, and the schools were built.”
Britton said he has told members of the board that is unacceptable. “If they think they can just ask voters to allow this district to have a $30 million check to spend at their discretion on a new school without any accountability they are sadly mistaken.”
He went on to say that he understands that the exact numbers may change, acknowledging that any estimate would not be valid for the next two to three years it will take for the project to be completed.
“I understand that estimates are only good for a certain period of time, I get that. However, with the mismanagement this district has engaged in over the years, I’ll be honest the voters just don’t trust them,” he said. “If they want this to pass they have got to be more transparent than ever. They say this is the same way they did it for Northridge and other schools, well guess what things are different now. Local residents are still hurting economically and we are much more skeptical now about how our dollars are being spent.”
Board president Doug Lidiak said they will go back and see if they can provide some information to help alleviate taxpayer’s concerns.
“If this bond issue fails, it is not the fault of the voters, but district officials. This issue is theirs to lose,” Britton said.