Sunday, March 04, 2007

Report from the Frontlines

With a Saturday meeting, I was able to attend the school board's bond meeting. I confess, first board meeting I have attended. Long, eye-opening, but seldom dull.

The time consuming battle was over the site of the new Crockett Elementary. In the course of this J B Hall provided the closest to real pyrotechnics. After having been granted one waiver of public comment rules, Hall insisted on addressing the board a third time. Chairman Layman was pushed to the point of threatening to insist on Hall's leaving if Hall did not desist. The chair had the good sense to call a recess, which by that time I am sure several bladders appreciated anyway, and defused that potential head-butting contest in personal conversation with Mr. Hall by the time a relieved audience and board reconvened.

As was pointed out, the eventual Crockett choice went against the recommendations of the Citizen's Task Force, Admin Staff, and the majority of public comment. At least it did come out that the $1.5 million “bridge” to this site mentioned in earlier news reports had been a pedestrian bridge similar to the spectacularly unused one over S. Bryant, and is no longer considered necessary. My comment on this inclined toward the existing property, but realistically, this is probably revenue neutral. Once we abandon the current Crockett site it becomes highly valuable real estate for sale. One board member questioned its value in that it lies between two churches, maybe ASU wouldn't be too hot for it. Another member replied that if so, we have the Baptists on one side, the Church of Christ on the other, perhaps the Methodists would like to be in the line-up.

Humor aside, the property will be very valuable, if for nothing else the parking lots behind it belonging to SAISD. That value may well be higher than the street frontage. The loss here would be in terms of factional support more than dollars.

The vote on the new Central location was predictable. Assuming we do decide the total rebuild of Central is the way San Angelo wants to go, the location is not irrational, and affordable.

Credit to Sid Clemmer for the suggestion that eventually carried the day (well, night, but...). It appeared to catch the board like a deer in the headlights, led to another recess. After comment at some length, the board unanimously approved the bond be severed, with the Central/Lakeview-additions as one item, $106 million total, and the two elementary schools at $24 million the other.

In my opinion, this is the best result available given the political realities at work. I have agreed from the start that A bond is justifiable, but that the Long Range Plan and this specific phase of it is beyond what is necessary in a town where a relatively non-negotiable plumber's bill is about to drive everybody's rent up. The plumbing is hardly SAISD's responsibility, but recognizing and adapting to that economic reality is their job. The question was raised, “but what if the high school package fails?” Well, in that case, we listen to the voters, retrench, rethink, negotiate and come back in November with a slim, trim package that might actually pass.

Prop II, the elementary schools, is almost sure to pass. My opinion, the high school package will be sent back to the drawing board for a strict diet. One Task Force member, Tod Herring, tried to insist that the three year effort of the Task Force be put as a single measure, anything less would disrupt the integrity of the Long Range Facilities Plan. By that standard, the voters should be presented with all three phases of that Plan, complete with a half billion dollar price tag. As a gambling man, I'll take donuts-to-dollars wagers against that. The board's action last night was nothing more or less than accepting electoral reality.

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