Jack Durham: Extravagant Measure Q’s Millions For Frills – October 15, 2010

Friday, October 15, 2010

On Nov. 2, voters in the Northern Humboldt Union High School District (NHUHSD) will be asked to raise their property taxes to pay for a $25.8 million bond measure for Arcata and McKinleyville high schools.

The annual property tax would be about $19 per $100,000 of assessed value, and would last for 25 to 30 years. The district estimates that the average homeowner would pay about $36 a year.

If the bond measure passes, it is hard to say exactly what it will pay for. The district has an unprioritized laundry list of potential projects, with only cost guesstimates.

Measure Q could pay for some seemingly necessary projects, like upgrading electrical systems that the district has deemed “overloaded.” District facilities, including bathrooms, drinking fountains and parking lots, could be improved to bring them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Some classrooms, which the district has declared “outdated,” may be remodeled. There may also be “security” improvements at both schools.

If Measure Q was limited to such projects, then it would be a slam dunk and I’d vote in favor of it.

The problem is that Measure Q includes some highly questionable – and expensive – projects.

For example, do the high schools really need to spend $2 million, give or take, to install synthetic turf on their football fields? Does Arcata High need an $8.2 million performing arts center?

If the economy was booming, and our community felt like splurging on such luxuries, then it might be worthwhile. But we’re in an economic slump.

We need to take care of our schools’ needs, but frugally.

Perhaps some voters will look at the project list and see items they like – an all-weather track at Arcata High, removal of asbestos, new “media centers” in the school libraries.

The problem is that there’s no guarantee that any of these particular projects would be completed.

Without having the projects prioritized, and with no cost estimates, it’s anybody’s guess how the money will be spent.

If it’s passed, classrooms may be remodeled, maybe not. The money might be spent on Astroturf, or a performing arts center, or maybe none of the above. Who knows?

Will the money be spent equally between McKinleyville and Arcata, or will one school get the lion’s share of bond funds? That’s also unknown.

The project list includes the purchase of solar panels, estimated to cost $900,000. Going green is good, but where’s the cost-benefit analysis? How long is it going to take for the district to recoup its investment?

The district may, or may not, move its Community Day School at an estimated cost of $878,000. Is this preferable to renting a building?

Rather than building a performing arts center for Arcata High, has the district considered expanding or improving the existing facilities?

What about renting a stage at HSU, or working with the Arcata Theater Lounge?

There are too many questionable projects and unknowns to vote in favor of Measure Q, which will hopefully go down in flames on Nov. 2.

The district can then return to voters at a later date with a more refined and frugal bond measure with specific, prioritized and essential projects. That’s something I would support.

Costly propaganda – from Chico?!?

Voters within the Northern Humboldt Union High School District recently received a mailer – paid for by the district – about Measure Q, the school bond measure which will appear on the Nov. 2 ballot.

The glossy flyer touts the district’s educational accomplishments and provides some rosy information about Measure Q.

Under the state’s education code, the district is allowed to spend tax dollars to provide information to the public about its own bond measure, assuming the information provided “constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts.”

While much of the flyer meets this criteria, there are some highly questionable statements that appear to advocate in favor of Measure Q.

“Repairing our current facilities should be done,” wrote Superintendent Kenny Richards on the front of the mailer. While he’s probably correct, that’s really more of an opinion than a fact. In its context, the sentence appears to be advocating in favor of Measure Q.

Richards also writes “Measure Q will improve the quality of education to local students and benefit the community for years.”

That also sounds like advocacy in favor of Measure Q and is hardly impartial.

When questioned about this Friday afternoon, Oct. 8, Richards said the mailer was reviewed by district counsel and deemed legal. It’s strictly informational, he said.

The district should stay out of the campaign for Measure Q. Factual information about the measure, and an impartial analysis, was already included in the sample ballot, which the County Elections Division recently mailed to every single registered voter.

It’s also worth pointing out that the recent mailer states that the school board wants “special consideration given to local contractors” if the measure is passed.

But when it came time to prepare the mailer, the district didn’t use a local print shop. Instead, it paid Creative Composition in Chico $9,248 to print and mail the bond propaganda.

What do you think?

Jack Durham is editor and publisher of the McKinleyville Press.

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4 Responses to “Jack Durham: Extravagant Measure Q’s Millions For Frills – October 15, 2010”

  1. Bob Sizoo

    In his column on Measure Q, Jack Durham inflated the cost of the Arcata High Performing Arts Center from the NHUHSD list by a million dollars. Perhaps he has calculated a more accurate cost estimate, in which case he should inform the district. He also tripled the price of solar panels posted on their list. Maybe he is suggesting installing three times as many panels which, given the decreasing cost and payback period for photovoltaics, may be a constructive suggestion.

    But it not nitpicking fiscal inaccuracies that is my main concern with this column, it is the rationalizing of the author’s parsimony. It’d be a “slam dunk” he’d be happy to vote for except the costs of the projects are only “guestimates,” and the list isn’t prioritized.

    He also objects to specific items on the list. He sees the all-weather track and field at the high schools as a waste of money. Why should we encourage adolescents to get exercise during those months when a grass field is too muddy to play on? Let ‘em drink sodas and send text messages.

    He objects to a new fine arts facility at Arcata High, suggesting that they trot the band, orchestra, choral, and theater arts participants up to HSU (plenty of unused facilities on the HSU campus, and and only a 20-minute walk each way!) or rent the Arcata Theater instead. The later sounds about as fiscally prudent as the state government’s plan to sell state facilities to investors and then rent them back from those same investors in order to accrue a short-term gain.

    I do agree with Jack Durham that NHUHSD should have used a local printer for their mailer, and hope they will do so in the future. But of course then someone would have complained that the district wasted money by not using Creative Composition in Chico who might have done it cheaper.

    The real reason I, as a voter in the NHUHSD, am agreeing to fork over a an extra seven or eight bucks a month for possibly the rest of my life is selfish. The pilot who is going to fly me to visit my daughter in ten years, or the doctor who is going to prescribe my arthritis medicine, or the engineer who is going to design my next- generation solar panels, or the soprano who is going to sing Violetta at the Met, or the mechanic who is going to replace the injectors on my truck engine just might be sitting in a high-school classroom in Arcata or McKinleyville. I want them to be engaged and active students in schools that demonstrate the community’s belief in the importance of their education – the kind of students who get out of school and want to give back to the community that nurtured them.

    #10975
  2. Jack Durham

    Dear Bob Sizoo,
    The cost estimates I used came from earlier estimates made by the district. I do agree that I should have used the latest estimates rather than the older estimates. That said, it’s not clear whether any of them are accurate or not.

    Prioritizing the list would give voters a better understanding of what would actually be built. After all, all of these numbers are guestimates. What happens if a project turns out to cost a lot more? Which projects will be dropped from the list? We don’t know.

    An all-weather track might be a good idea. However, as a former cross country and track runner, I can assure you that an all-weather track is not necessary for kids to get exercise. But it’s nice, for sure.

    A performing arts center might also be a great idea. However, I’d like to see an analysis exploring all of the different options. There might be alternatives that make more fiscal sense. Or, perhaps after a lengthy analysis, it would turn out that, yes, a fancy shmancy new performing arts center is the best idea.

    Some people might find the idea of a detailed analysis rather geeky and cumbersome, but it seems like it should be done before we spend $25.8 million.

    As for renting facilities, you might be right, or you might be wrong. Once again, where’s the analysis? Sometimes it makes sense to own your own property, while sometimes it makes more sense to rent.

    Finally, I absolutely agree with you that we should support our schools and give students the tools they need to learn.

    #11309
  3. Mara

    I’m so angry that nothing is proposed in this outragious measure to give our teenagers a warm, safe place to eat lunch!!!!

    This is directly from the McKinleyville High School Bulletin:

    Menu
    Breakfast is available daily at nutrition break. Students may choose bagel and cream cheese, cereal and milk, fruit and juice all for $2.00. Come by the tables outside the multipurpose room to purchase and pick up.

    All school lunch choices are prepared for a walk-around, social lunch and are delivered in a brown bag format. The main food changes daily and is listed in this section. Lunch choices include low-fat milk, vegetable, fruit and dessert. Students, please order a lunch in the attendance office before 8:15 in the morning. It is a nutritional bargain at $3.50 per lunch.

    ___________________________________________

    So, breakfast is served OUTSIDE the multi-purpose room and lunch is for a “walk-around social lunch”. In other words, you must roam the cold hallways kids ’cause we aint got no place for you!!! The teachers have a warm breakroom! Why don’t the kids have a break room?

    Fix the gross bathrooms and make them ADA accessible, upgrade the classrooms and GIVE THE STUDENTS A PLACE TO EAT LUNCH WITHOUT FREEZING THEIR BUTTS OFF!!!!

    #11338
  4. In his column on Measure Q, Jack Durham inflated the cost of the Arcata High Performing Arts Center from the NHUHSD list by a million dollars. Perhaps he has calculated a more accurate cost estimate, in which case he should inform the district. He also tripled the price of solar panels posted on their list. Maybe he is suggesting installing three times as many panels which, given the decreasing cost and payback period for photovoltaics, may be a constructive suggestion.

    But it not nitpicking fiscal inaccuracies that is my main concern with this column, it is the rationalizing of the author’s parsimony. It’d be a “slam dunk” he’d be happy to vote for except the costs of the projects are only “guestimates,” and the list isn’t prioritized.

    He also objects to specific items on the list. He sees the all-weather track and field at the high schools as a waste of money. Why should we encourage adolescents to get exercise during those months when a grass field is too muddy to play on? Let ‘em drink sodas and send text messages.

    He objects to a new fine arts facility at Arcata High, suggesting that they trot the band, orchestra, choral, and theater arts participants up to HSU (plenty of unused facilities on the HSU campus, and and only a 20-minute walk each way!) or rent the Arcata Theater instead. The later sounds about as fiscally prudent as the state government’s plan to sell state facilities to investors and then rent them back from those same investors in order to accrue a short-term gain.

    I do agree with Jack Durham that NHUHSD should have used a local printer for their mailer, and hope they will do so in the future. But of course then someone would have complained that the district wasted money by not using Creative Composition in Chico who might have done it cheaper.

    The real reason I, as a voter in the NHUHSD, am agreeing to fork over a an extra seven or eight bucks a month for possibly the rest of my life is selfish. The pilot who is going to fly me to visit my daughter in ten years, or the doctor who is going to prescribe my arthritis medicine, or the engineer who is going to design my next- generation solar panels, or the soprano who is going to sing Violetta at the Met, or the mechanic who is going to replace the injectors on my truck engine just might be sitting in a high-school classroom in Arcata or McKinleyville. I want them to be engaged and active students in schools that demonstrate the community’s belief in the importance of their education – the kind of students who get out of school and want to give back to the community that nurtured them.

    #14121

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