Friday, June 22, 2012

The School District, by the numbers

The district exists for the kids. Letís make them first again.


In reading the Blaine County School District's rebuttal, "School District did the right thing" (June 6), to the recent editorial about the McKinstry lawsuits, one is struck by how unresponsive the district's representatives are to the Express' fair and basic questions. Mr. Guthrie and Dr. Barber completely sidestep the question of how so much money could be spent with so little oversight. In particular, the district response is completely devoid of actual numbers to support its positions, other than factoids about bypassing Idaho's open-bidding statutes to conduct its own local Works Project Administration program.

So, let's look at some facts and some numbers:

- $300,000 (source: District Business Manager Mike Chatterton): The "best-case savings" annually in energy costs under the energy-savings contract.

- 110 years: The number of years it would take to recoup the taxpayers' investment of $33 million in these projects under the levy, at $300,000 annually. Best case. The reality is that the payback is "never" since most experts agree that these overly complex heat pumps and controls will only have a service life of 25 years. In 30 years they'll be decaying in landfills, replaced by the more sensible systems this levy should have bought.

- 11 percent (source: Idaho Mountain Express): The percentage of the overall electorate that voted in favor of this levy. To suppress turnout, Dr. Barber took great care to hold this election on an "off" day in late 2009, despite being mere weeks away from a general election date. Such a practice today is illegal under Idaho law; in 2009 it was merely unethical and insensitive. Dr. Barber said his only priority was to pass the levy, despite what the constituents actually thought.

- $13,000 (source: Blaine County School District): The amount spent to hire a political consultant to "pass the levy."

- 200 points (Idaho State Department of Education): The average annual amount that the district's SAT combined math and reading scores have lagged behind the state's best high schools over the past five years.

- 15-to-1 (source: Blaine County School District reports): Ratio of "more rigorous curriculum" to "implement green buildings" as responses to community surveys in district strategic planning.

- More than 90 percent (source: Dr. Barber): The district's self-proclaimed Wood River High School graduation rates.

- Less than 75 percent (EdWeek): Actual Wood River High School graduation rates as reported by the independent Gates Foundation, significantly lower than peer schools in the state and the region.

- 4 (source: Blaine County School District). The number of times that both AVID and IB-Diploma academic programs could have been implemented for the $7 million "levy discrepancy."

- 0: Total MBA/law degrees among School District leadership. Who spends this kind of money, even though they don't even understand the nature of the contract governing it all? Where is the management acumen and financial savvy?

It's time to favor "instruction over construction." Our kids need it and the community needs it.

Toward that end, I'd propose:

- Immediate moratorium on any further levy-based projects, pending outside review.

- Outside audit of all projects completed to this point, with an independent report to the community regarding costs, benefits and legal liabilities.

- An advisory committee seated by trustees, and appointed by community leaders—not the district—composed of local financial, engineering and energy experts. The community is blessed with considerable expertise in these arenas. Let's use it.

Until some independence can be brought to these matters, the community will have no confidence in the district to resolve the situation and bring kids back to the top of the district's priority list. The district exists for the kids. Let's make them first again.

Holmes Lundt is a resident of Ketchum.

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