1. Great article. I believe we need a proactive School Board to review the budget to find out the best way to educate our children. If we continue to have such high escalation costs the city will have to tax their way out of this mess. That usually doesn’t end well.

    1. Jason I have been asking for program costs and details for years. The former school board rolled out the MYP program, redirecting professional training dollars to this program from other important areas, all while not disclosing to the community the cost of this program nor the expected education outcomes (with data).

      (I can provide the link to a meeting where the MYP program is presented. I ask anyone to find even one slide about cost! )

      This past spring, finally after repeated requests over years, I did receive some information about class sizes at the high school. (At work sessions the class size discussions are always about the elementary school but I never heard any board member ask about high school class size.) I wrote about those findings on this site. The point is we do need more members on the school board willing to ask hard questions and to support the members we have that are asking them.

      I would like to see a lot more information about operational costs to help the public understand very transparently what the expense of the new school will look like.

      1. The City Council needs to be transparent to the citizens. Why is this operational costs being withheld? Alison, thank you for asking and asking again for the cost data even when they don’t provide answers. Maybe they will hear you one day.

        At the town hall meeting last night, a citizen repeatedly asked Wyatt Shields why the operational costs were not included in the analysis for GMHS campus development project. The response was that the city decided to just concentrate on the debt.

        The city is misleading the public by not including the entire cost. The public needs to understand that there are other costs to educating our children ie. teachers, which are 80% of the budget costs. Simple logic: you have more children to teach, you need more teachers. Where will the funds come from to pay for the teachers? The economic development on the 10 acres is only bringing in $3 Million and that money is being used to pay for the debt. The only way to pay the teachers is to increase the real estate tax.

        If you think an increase of 4 cents for the debt is small, think again: paying for more teachers is much more than the money needed to pay the loan payment.

        1. And did any member of the city council or school board who was present back up the citizen and say that is a good question…and in the spirit of openness we must include projected operating costs in order to present the total picture on expected tax rate increases? I did not hear any official speak up, or did I miss it?

          1. @Dale – No city official has addressed the issue. The only comment I heard was from Dr. Noonan who said they will try to curb expenses each year.

            Perhaps this will be a good question for all City Council and School Board candidates.

            Keep asking City Council, the City Manager and the CFO to provide this data so citizens can truly be informed.

    2. Large increases in the tax rate are needed for the high school and will occur EACH YEAR until the year 2038. Keep in mind those projected tax rate increases only cover the debt. Wait until the schools claim (as they do each year) they need much more in operating costs, which if approved by the city council and go unchallenged and not controlled in some way…. will increase the tax rate even more EACH YEAR. Don’t be fooled by the shallow reporting in news articles that make little or no mention of this not to mention likely cost overruns that will make the $120 million even more.

      1. And the $120M does not, that I recall, include design costs or permits. Just hard building costs. Full cost and total cost of operating over the life needs to be calculated in for proper analysis. Much as I would love my youngest to have a brand new school in 2023, I’m not sure it’s affordable.

        1. @ R. Winters – Agree – the city needs to provide the proper analysis. The Town Hall meeting only presented the information about the debt. Several members asked about the operating costs and Dr. Noonan said they would have to be careful about spending. Mr. Shields indicated that the meeting was only to address CIP (debt). I believe this is not truly transparent.

          Good point – I just assumed that the $120M was all inclusive. It is a good question to ask how much we would be expected to pay for the entire project. Thank you for bringing that to our attention.

          Yes, sadly, I think it is truly unaffordable. It is necessary to look at Plan B.

  2. Your analysis is impeccable. The big problem is how we can the City Council to recognize this math & address it before going forward with approval to hold a referendum. A “leap of faith” as propounded by Vice Mayor Connelly will not do it.

  3. Thank you for writing this article and also for footnoting the sources of city and school documents. This is the type of analysis that I would expect from our both our school and city financial experts but they do not provide this level of detail. It is important that the citizens understand the impact of this project to the financial health of our city. After reviewing this data, I suggest the city put a “pause” on this referendum until the fiscal deficit from escalating operational costs can be addressed. We cannot have a “build it and the money will follow” attitude because the risks are extremely high.

    There is a false narrative that economic development will be the key to our money woes. However, when you look at the money being generated from these large projects, it is simply not even close to the money we need. We add density, congestion, pollution and decrease the quality of life with little benefit to the city.

    When you add density, city services will need to increase also and there will be no funding to address those increases.

    I recommend all City Council, School Board members, City officials comment on the operational costs and tell us how they are going to be addressed. I also would like to hear from the candidates that are running for public office. We need candidates and public officials that are interested in making this city better, not putting citizens at the risk for city bankruptcy.

  4. Thanks for this analysis – it concentrates the mind wonderfully on the fantastical thinking coming out of the Council, City Manager, and School Board. We cannot afford a $120 million new school. We are alteady on the hook for needed tenovations at city hall, and the library lobby is also pushing to bond out a substantial library renovation/addition. The current tax bite on residential real estate is already severe enough to diminish our individual family financial choices and general quality of life. Adding at least 60 cents to the tax rate is simply unconscionable, when the average household is now paying in the vicinity of $1,000 per month in city real estate taxes. Further, to the extent that this 60-cent projection assumes that current housing values will remain steady or increase, thus raising the real estate tax tax base, the assumption is faulty if real estate values decrease as a result of high taxes and a diminished quality of life. In that case, real estate taxes would have to increase even more to keep up with revenue needs. Schools are the driver of these dire circumstances. I have long advocated for a forensic audit of FCCps to determine how to get operating costs and classroom costs operating at peak economic efficiency. This effort should be a precursor to a realistic adjustment of the CIP or any school construction bonding. As well, the powers that be and the citizens of this city should be giving serious thought to alternative, affordable ways to educate our children, including contracting out school/educational operations, privatizing the school system, or merging with a neighboring county system. What’s going on at city hall is not so much planning and budgeting as it is magical thinking.

  5. City Council keeps repeating the mantra that mixed use development is not contributing to the increased student population. They also profess that mixed use and commercial will pay for many of our city needs. Base on this analysis and the economic development numbers released from the city, there is not enough funds to run the schools.

    My questions:
    1. Why is this not presented by the City Manager/City CFO as a huge liability?
    2. Why does City Council still approve these developments when they really don’t add much to our tax revenue. The bulk of the money is from the taxpayer.
    3. Why isn’t the School Board showing us that they need to make adjustments on their spending in order to keep the taxes down for the citizens?

    The information provided here is alarming. Logically, the writer shows all the maths and sources and it makes sense to me. Where is someone from our city or school with a solution? It almost seems like they are ignoring this shortfall.

  6. I agree this is an excellent analysis. I would like to see a city official write a rebuttal, so the taxpayers can make an educated opinion on what viewpoint should prevail. I would suggest our Vice Mayor, who works for the school superintendent and who walks the halls every day with her school colleagues and I am sure feels some pressure to toe the line on a $120 million high school with all of the associated operating costs, write such a justification not with generalities but with detailed, countering analysis. She is a candidate for re-election so make sure that when she speaks about this and knocks on your door this fall seeking your vote, that you ask her tough, not softball, questions.

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