Certainly not the District 7 School Board.
While it might seem that asking for $185 million dollars from your taxpayers is a very important topic that deserves a lot of consideration, it might surprise you to know that the people asking for your money did not even know how much they were actually asking you to pay.
Not one administrator of School District 7, not one Trustee, and not the Superintendent himself even bothered to ask.
None of the officials who are asking for your money knew the actual total bottom line price tag on this very expensive project until local citizens demanded an answer.
Before we hear the details of this discovery, it is important to note that we are not referring to unusual, obscure details of a complicated financial anomaly. The details that we sought were the same numbers that any responsible borrower would ask before deciding to take a loan. Simply, the total principal and interest dollar amounts that would have to be repaid over the life of the loan. If this had been your money, you would have wanted to know exactly this. Our point is, they should have researched, reviewed, and heavily considered whether or not to take the deal.
Oct 31 2015
More than 20 Community Forums
Dr. Booker, District 7 Superintendent, conducts “more than 20 community forums and meetings” to advocate for the "$185 million project". *See Source 1, 2, 3, and 4
Nov 10 2015
Unanimous Approval - $185 Million!
District 7 Board of Trustees “unanimously approved a $185 million building plan during their board meeting”. Members present at that time included Mrs. Laura Bauknight, to complete the unanimous vote. Trustee Rick Gray states, “This has been really easy for us as board members,”. *See Source 5.
Their concern, stated by both Dr. Booker and Trustee Gray, was whether or not there was opposition to the plan by the attendees of their meeting, and seemingly finding none (or at least reporting that they saw none), they moved forward.
It appears that none were willing to find out more or dig deeper unless they encountered undeniable opposition. They did not arrive at this idea armed with the “pro” and “con” facts and ready to make the best decision possible, they only learned one side of it … the arguments for doing it … and waited to see if there was “pushback” or a “groundswell of opposition”. That was their determining factor for moving forward, not the actual good or harm it would do to the community if the plan was realized.
You will see this theme repeated in many different areas of this issue – there is a consistent emphasis on what one “can” do, instead of an evaluation of what one “should” do.
Dec 01 2015
Oath of Office
The second item on the Agenda and recorded in the Minutes for the Special Called Meeting of the Board of Trustees was “Dr. Russell Booker administered the Oath of Office to Mrs. Meg Clayton, Mr. Rick Gray, Mr. Clay Mahaffey, and Dr. Ernest White.”
The fourth item on the Agenda was the Bond Referendum Resolution- Discussion, at which time “Dr. Booker said at the January meeting the Bond Referendum Resolution would be presented for approval.” *See Source 6.
Jan 05 2016
Another Unanimous Vote - Does the public matter?
The Board of Trustees met. *See Source 7. The meeting began with awards and Good News, then moved on to a comments section open to the public.
Three members of the District spoke to the Trustees, all 3 expressed concern with the $185 million project, and included many direct questions to the Board. The final question from a resident was, “What is the board’s estimate on the final total cost (ALL costs included) of the entire spending project?”
The resident’s questions were hand-delivered in writing as well as verbally expressed during the public comments time allotted (source – Beth Hull’s letter dated January 5th, 2016). Immediately following the public questions, the discussion began on the referendum, and trustees were allowed ample time to ask any question about the project that they desired.
Following the question-and-answer between the Trustees and the Superintendent, “Trustees unanimously approved a referendum resolution and set the date during the board’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.” *See Source 8.
Towards the end of the meeting, Laura Bauknight, recently replaced Board of Trustees member, was announced by Dr. Booker as co-chair of the steering committee that would head the campaign in favor of the bond referendum. (Source – verbal at the meeting in public, as well as emails and memos distributed throughout the District.)
Jan 08 2016
Request for Tax Increase Information
A letter was hand-delivered to the Custodian of Public Records for District 7, asking for details on the impact on property taxes, and the cost projections for this referendum.
At the time Beth Hull entered the office, she thought that these details were likely there in the office and they could just make a copy for her. This was not the case. After meeting with two employees, it was clear these details were not known to the office and they were going to have to contact their advisors to locate the answers.
Beth Hull left them with a copy of the letter and agreed to check back on Monday for the answer.
Jan 11 2016
District 7 responds with a report from their municipal advisors, detailing Debt Service Requirements, Debt Service Structure Report, Cash Flow Analysis Report, and Millage Effect on Taxpayers.
Beth Hull states, “In reading the reports, I noticed the headings stated “Bonds”, plural, and I couldn’t tell if this was because the advisors just used a generic heading and didn’t backspace over the “s”, or if these numbers were reporting on more than one bond.
In order to be sure I received accurate information, I knew I’d have to get a clarification.” (source – Debt Service Structure Report, column H)
Jan 12 2016
Second Request for Tax Increase Information
Beth Hull hand-delivers a second records request to the Assistant to the Chief Financial Officer for District 7, asking about that heading stating “bonds” and asking if it was actually for more than one bond or if that was just a typo.
The answer was not known to anyone in the office at the time, and they asked for some time to check with their advisors again.
For clarification, she requested a principal and interest repayment schedule for only the $185 million bond.
Jan 12 2016
Dr. Booker's Unusual Answer
Dr. Russell Booker sends a memorandum to Elizabeth Hull with answers to the questions in her January 5th letter.
In answer to the question, “What is the board’s estimate on the final total cost (ALL costs included) of the entire spending project?” The answer given by Dr. Booker was “The cost estimates for the Capital Improvement Plan in the referendum ($185 million) is inclusive of all expenditures for all projects.”
Note: From Beth Hull – “Being new to this, it took me some time to realize that semantics could easily get in the way. I had been attempting to use simple, plainly-worded, straightforward questions. To me, “all costs” was an understandable question – I know money isn’t free, and borrowing this amount of money was going to entail costs beyond the actual price tag of the initial project, I thought I was being clear. Apparently I was not. His answer showed me that I was going to have to learn a new way to speak in order to get the answers I sought.”
Jan 15 2016
District 7 claims to be "at the mercy"
Beth Hull receives a call from the District office explaining that they were working on obtaining the information clarifying the bond/bonds question with principal and interest payments.
The employee mentioned at the time that they were “at the mercy of” their advisors, that they had not received the answer yet, but as soon as they did, they would forward it.
Note: Municipal advisors are hired by the District to do these types of analyses. This is like saying that a boss is “at the mercy of” his employee and work can’t get done until the employee decides to do the work he was already paid to do.
Jan 19 2016
No Board Member Bothered to Ask
The Principal and Interest schedule on the proposed referendum bonds is delivered by email.
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first time anyone other than the advisors had ever examined these numbers.
And further, this is the first documented incidence of anyone even asking to see the numbers!
Further, the actions of the Board of Trustees during the January 5th meeting was revealing, to say the least. During the meeting, the Trustees were instructed not to speak directly to the citizens commenting during the public part of the meeting. However, they were permitted to engage the Superintendent directly at several points in the meeting following the public comments.
If any of the Board had felt any desire whatsoever to respect the concerns of the District residents who had taken the time to attend their meeting, these Board members would have demonstrated it at that time.
However, none did. Not one Trustee gave any consideration to a single question asked by the only citizens bold enough to ask them in public to their faces. The Trustees instead ignored these concerns completely and showed no interest in anything the public had to say.
These are not the actions of objective public servants who are to be entrusted with your well-being and your wallets. These are the actions of advocates who have a pre-determined outcome in mind and only seek to obtain that outcome, whether good or harmful to the people who have to live with the outcome and pay for it.
Whether they chose to ignore the impact of these payments on the taxpayers, or whether they simply were not proactive enough to inquire about it before conducting OVER TWENTY MEETINGS AND VOTING FOR IT UNANIMOUSLY, it is absolutely unacceptable that they were ignorant of these numbers and dismissive of the very people who put them in office.