Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fieldhouse Follies

Last Monday the SAISD Board had another "workshop" session. Everyone, myself included, took a deep breath of relief that the major portion of the bond passed, and the sentiment seemed clear to move forward with it so as to use the money while it was still worth something. On that topic, thank you voters. I did not support the bond and the tax levy it required lightly. This was money the district needs.

Now that we have had a week to bask in success, I have one word to discomfit all: Fieldhouse!

We've all watched as the new library progressed from a vague idea to a reality at little cost to taxpayers. Grants, bequests, donations, this is going to become a reality with the only significant public "expense" being the gift of the building itself. In that the city had discovered it had no real use for it, that cost us nothing.

Now compare this to the Bobcat Stadium Fieldhouse. Granted, the existing facility is in need of repair, BUT...

We were told this could be accomplished with a relatively minor contribution from SAISD, matching grants, donations, etc. Then the donations fell short, SAISD ponied up some more money to get the matching grant. Then the cost inflated, but keeping the eye on the ball, SAISD decided to pick up a little more of the tab, all for a good cause, of course.

Now I confess, I was concentrating on the bond, some of this slipped by me. Cut to the chase, SAISD is on the verge of deciding to spend something on the order of $5-6 million on a fieldhouse.

We are being told this has huge potential for "economic development", a shiny new fieldhouse will bring in so many sports events we will be hard put to count the money. Folks, I am a football fan from hell, I love the game, but I learned long ago to cast a gimlet eye on public finance of sports stadiums. Much as I am a Cowboys fan, had I lived in the Metroplex, I'd have fought public finance of their new facility tooth and nail.

If this project is really going to bring in all this money, where are the people who will directly benefit? Assuming all this fever dream comes to pass, the direct beneficiaries would be hotels, restaurants and retail stores. The contribution from the hotel occupancy tax? ZERO! The contribution from local retailers? ZERO! The voluntary donations from local sports fans? Not quite, but close enough to zero as to make no difference. The interest shown by our local half cent sales tax development corporation, decidedly ZERO!

ASU, which also uses our high school stadium, is in way better shape financially than SAISD. They currently get use of the facility for $25k a year. By any standard, this is a sweetheart deal for ASU. Their contribution to the fieldhouse fund? Not to overuse a trite term, but, ZERO!

Folks, I was happy to spend my time and effort in support of the bond. Virtually all of that money will be spent on projects necessary to good education. Much as I love the game, in times when people are sweating the next paycheck, I don't really care if high school football is played by the lights of the fans' car headlights on a cow pasture. If the fans want better, send Stormy Kimry a check. That's what library "fans" did.

This whole sloppy exercise brings to light some glaring deficiencies in SAISD process. First we have this idea of every other meeting being a "pre-agenda" workshop. One result is that we only have one meeting a month that actually "counts". Seems SAISD believes only the "real" meetings have to be recorded for the public access channel. They are wrong, but Conchoinfo will attempt to correct that, and offer our record online.

Had last Monday's "workshop" been available, the early call for an "executive session" would be available to the public. Early on the agenda was the purchase of a property on Cottonwood adjacent to Central. Now mind you, I support the decision to buy it, this is a good property at a reasonable price. After a motion had been made to approve it {Wait a minute; I thought this was a "pre-agenda workshop", why is real business being effectively moved?} Trustee Archer requested an executive session. President Layman was reluctant, the owners were in attendance, we don't want to keep them waiting. Archer insisted; he agreed, the purchase was a done deal, but he wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. A brief executive session was called.

The intent of the legislation allowing executive sessions for carefully defined puposes was to allow a gov't body private negotiation room before bringing a final deal up to a public vote. The executive session exception to open meetings rules was NOT to have a private snout-counting session and avoid the possible embarrassment of a rogue member actually dissenting.

I have seen this pursuit of unanimity more often than I am comfortable with. Something close to this, a requirement for a second before a Trustee could put an item on the agenda, led to Terry Bader's resignation. Where is it written that an overriding concern of a governing body should be unanimity? City Council manages to rock along with 5/2, even 4/3 decisions, they are still decisions. It is almost as if SAISD has adopted a circle-the-wagons, us against them attitude. Why I don't know. The voters may have turned down the last bond issue, but the last Board election was cancelled due to lack of opposition.

I hold that a governing body's motivation should be transparency of process. It is easier to get the voter's consent when they are convinced everything is open and above board. Editing recordings and casual resort to closed sessions is not the best path to voter trust.

This digression into process aside, we deserve a better rationale for an athletic expenditure of this amount than has been provided. This is a larger sum than most individual campuses will receive from the bond. "Bobcat Pride" can take a back seat to economic reality in my never-to-be-humble opinion. If our economic development prospects from this are all that rosy, go sell stock in it to those who will benefit from it, don't dump another load on the taxpayers.


  1. Personally I believe it would more beneficial to upgrade the tennis courts.

    The quality of teaching is bad. I fought with the SAISD off and on in the elementary schools. In the elementary system they called the interim-superintendent in on me and threatened to have the police remove me from campus when I attended a parent’s day with students and took notes.

    When I continued to challenge them on teacher quality and accountability I was informed that the female teachers were frightened by me when I came to the school to pick up my son at dismissal.


  2. I agree about the "circle the wagons" mentality. When Lanny ran the first time, he sat on my porch and told me he was going to make changes, but now he's one of them.
    Zentner's Daughter and a few other retail establishments will be the benefit the most from the new field house. Getting ASU to pitch in is a good idea, but the state may soon be in budget crisis.
    First, our children need to be safe. The recent incidents at Lee Middle School show they're not. Then, make sure all students have the opportunity to learn and keep our schools off the list of poorly performing schools.
    In the priority list, a field house should be way down at the bottom of the list.
    If new businesses look at moving into town, they don't look at field houses. They are more concerned about the quality of education here and the condition of our schools.

  3. Five to six megabucks for a new "Fieldhouse"? Ah, fiscal insanity, thy name is the SAISD.

    As a San Angelo ex-patriot, I try to view things such as this with an air of objectivity while at the same time trying to factor in the local attitudes and sometimes chronically obsessive preoccupations with things like... well, football. That IS what this thing is about.

    This thing is embicilic. For one thing, anybody who tries to present this turkey of a package as being a net revenue generator for San Angelo has been smoking something a great deal stronger than unfiltered Camels. It's simply more of the Shoulder Pad And Helmet set's getting on its knees and bowing to the deity of West Texas Football. For another thing, the entities that would benefit from the tsunami of funds this thing will allegedly produce should be a major part of paying for it... not just the SAISD, with its storied money woes.

    As an aside, five to six megabucks can buy a whole swarm of computers, and books, and a few teachers here and there, and upgrade and/or replace a truly educational building or two, and do all kinds of things that might actually contribute to the education of the kids in San Angelo.

    In my alleged mind, "Bobcat Pride" should be measured more by the quality of educating kids than by win/loss records in what is really just a silly game and pretty facilities supporting such.

    Also in my alleged mind, this whole thing is just plain dumb. Fix the true schooling problems first, and if there's any money left worry about that damn fieldhouse.


  4. You are right! This is ridiculous...but don't be so fool-hardy as to think we can come between West-Texans and their football! Maybe if we spend a few million bucks the Bobcats could win at least ONE game!