Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Northwest Allen County School Board

The Northwest Allen County School board voted on going forward with adding onto Carroll High School for a cost of over $63 million. This includes a new larger gym, a covered causeway between the freshman academy and main campus, new band room, an administrative space will increase by 85%, locker rooms for freshman academy, creating a large stairwell (consumes two classrooms), adding 27 classrooms and moving the cafeteria to the vocational area and constructing a new vocational wing.

A demographic study was done that showed the 2005-06 student body to total 1,652 but actual total is 1,717 or an increase of 4%. This study projects in the 2013-14 to have 2,374 and three years later in 2016-17 to have 2,698. In short the time frame covers ten years at, which time the new expansion will be at capacity. Will we then have one super high school that cannot be added onto due to land limitations? Is the plan then to build a new smaller high school? Is there a plan or contingency for what to do or is it up to those in the future to figure out?

It was difficult to pin point the exact current capacity of Carroll and the freshman campus. I am not sure why the school board could not just list current capacity and projected capacity, but needless to say, they did not. They informed the taxpayers that due to curriculum changes and computer labs capacity was already reduced by 200 students. They then presented the current student body to be 1,717, but again is this Carroll and the Freshman Campus or just Carroll with the freshman campus at 450 and does it include reduced capacity? I asked this question three different ways and got three different responses. The school board could not give a direct and single answer, which concerns me. Does the total student body total 2150 or is it 1717 and what is the current usable capacity?

The school board spoke in terms of two separate schools now and then after construction spoke in terms of a single school. They mixed and matched terms so much that I am still not sure of the total school enrollment.

When the architectural layout was presented I counted the number of new classrooms. This could be used to verify the increase in capacity using 26 students per classroom. Two current classrooms would be eliminated to make room for a super stairwell. The art rooms would expand into the current band practice room and the new construction would replace the current band room. In total I calculate about 27 new classrooms for a total increase in capacity of 702 students.

With a cost of $63.5 Million and an increase of 702 student seats, the cost per student seat is $90,570. A new $120 million school will have a new gym, hallways designed for student flow and a capacity of 1,700. The cost per seat is then $70,588 or 28% less. Afterwards a board member told me the reason why the board did not look at a new school was risk. They did not want to overbuild like East Allen County Schools. They faced the same question back in 1996. Turns out a new school then would have cost less per student seat than the addition that was ultimately approved. That decision has resulted in a higher tax rate to support the school system.

Many supported the addition/renovation plan based on having more gym space. This was deemed important based on testimony of parents who had children in dance, band, intermerals and cheer leading. Due to demand on space, these people supported the expansion. The problem is you can achieve the same result by building a new independent school.

The financial impact used the same smoke and mirrors or misrepresentation that all government entities use to sell a con and that is level financing. They showed the tax impact at 13.5 cents per $100 accessed value. They then created a bar chart showing current bond costs. The new construction would significantly increase the rate from 50 cents to 63.5 cents. But then showed the burden dropping over twenty years. This is because increased students equal increase property tax base spreading the burden over more. What they failed to show is that this drop over twenty years did not stop after ten years (when capacity would be reached) but continued for twenty years meaning that enrollment was increasing, but no increase in cost. At the same time level financing means the payments are fixed yearly even though the buying power drops. The correct accounting method to use is accrual accounting or real cost per student per year spread over the useful life of the construction. This method would show a slightly increasing cost yearly (due to replacement cost). The result is a mill rate that would not change based on the tax base. In simple terms look for this to be repeated in ten years or less.

For a $150K home, you are looking at $214 increase, a $250K is $405 and $350K home will pay $595 more. Recently the news reported that 83% of workers are not setting aside enough money for retirement. This tax increase in terms of retirement savings is close to 10% of that saved and it is already too little.

One school has pros and cons.

PROS

  • Economy of size in classrooms – able to offer more academic variety
  • Economy of size in athletics – one varsity team versus two
  • Economy of size in utilities – adjacent walls reduce heat loss
  • Economy of size in administrative – one administrative team, but larger. In addition salaries tend to be commensurate with school size so there are savings, they are much lower than a linear (1 to 1) comparison would produce.
CONS
  • Busses travel ground already covered previously by other busses to pick up students.
  • Increased traffic in one location
  • Carroll hallways are the limiting factor. Even though you consume two classrooms for a super stairwell, you are still limited by the hallways for student flow.
  • Making the basketball, football or any team will more difficult.
  • A larger campus means more walking to get to infrastructures (cafeteria, administration, gym, etc)
  • The original school dates to 1969. Newer construction dates to 1996 and this construction would date 2008. You are mixing three different construction periods and surrounding the oldest portions with the newest. What happens to useable life of buildings when you do this? At some point in time the 1969 portion will need to be replaced or becomes un-usable. Is it 100 years or 75 years from now? Whatever it is, the new portions will at the same time loose function or usefulness by 37 years.
  • Renovation will remove infrastructure that has a useful life left, but is still being paid for by the first bond (1996). Renovation will update the HVAC, plumbing, electrical and construction, but keep in mind these were just added in 1996 and after just eleven years will be torn out. Those bonds were twenty-year bonds. We will now be paying on two bonds for the same identical equivalent space in many areas.
  • Parking and traffic flow have not been resolved. Patchwork always leads to unforseen problems.
  • A school Lock-Down was identified as a positive result, but in reality I think this newer larger school with parking in the rear and to the west make security the same problem if not a bit worse.

What was interesting is many teachers were there to support the change as a taxpayer. In government, anyone who has a vested interest in a business must excuse themselves from a vote on that topic. Teachers have a vested interest in the outcome, more so than just a taxpayer.

I believe the school board followed the letter of the law in the presentation, but I feel the board did an extremely poor job of presenting all the options available. They may have covered a new school cost, but frankly I have never seen a comparison report. We have new taxpayers moving in and they have the right to be informed as to what has transpired up to this point, especially when it has covered multiple years. When moving forward on a project, it is customary to review all options prior to a decision. A five-minute review of a new school cost should have been done, but was not. This may be why business does a much better job at controlling costs than school boards.

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