The Mt. Daniel Expansion Debacle

Adverse Impact on Taxpayers and Youngest Students

The Rush to a Bond Referendum Peril Was Foreseen

Opposition to the Referendum Was “Positive”

 

Second in a Series of Three Articles

By Ira Kaylin

There are three factors that are primarily responsible for the Mt Daniel delay. These factors are related to governance, process and decision making weaknesses of the School Board and City Council. These weaknesses must be addressed if we are to efficiently and effectively manage upcoming projects.

The Three Fundamental Errors

  1.  The “original sin” was the hurried submission and subsequent approval of the 2014 Referendum vote authorizing borrowing for the Mt. Daniel project. The School Board has pursued overly optimistic construction guidelines leading to a “ready, fire, aim” approach to project approval and execution.
  2.  The second error was to borrow approximately $11 million without having received “proof,” i.e., factual documentation, that the Fairfax Planning Commission HAD APPROVED the project.
  3.  The third error, which is related to the above, was to accept the School Board’s verbal assurance that approval was certain.

EDITOR’S COMMENT PICK:

Dale Walton writes:

Thank you, Ira, for writing and continuing to expose this mess. No one else is going to cover it. I would have more respect for those officials involved if they made a public statement to taxpayers and parents acknowledging the very poor execution and oversight of this project, and that improvements will be made going forward. Effective leadership includes admitting mistakes. Instead, they prefer to brush it all aside. Officials involved do not deserve to continue to manage this and other capital projects. Their credibility with the public is “shot” to speak. But, they want to continue to manage such projects including the much larger middle and high school rebuild. If any of these folks worked and managed projects where many of us worked, given their track record on this project their role going would be minimized. This is government so it is difficult to get rid of these folks, short of voting them out of office and forcing a change in school superintendent. So we are stuck with them but taxpayers should insist on some new players, like the newer members of the school board and others for example, so that the involvement of the current cast is reduced.

“Positive” Opposition to the Referendum

BOX

The Unconnected Electrical Boxes May Be the Only Physical Result of the Construction Bond Proceeds.

A number of citizens recognized the risks associated with the rush to Referendum. These citizens expressed major concerns about the viability of the project and opposed the Referendum.

The opposition was NOT related to the need for Mt. Daniel rehabilitation and expansion. It was generally accepted that Mt. Daniel renovation was needed. The issue/opposition was based on the untested assumptions regarding the size of the expansion, the unverified cost estimates and lack of independent review (other than the engineering firm Arcadis ) of the proposal.

Uninformed and Dangerous Decisions

The City Manager and City Council not only failed to require “proof” of approval, the City Manager rushed to judgment (that is issued City debt) based on the assumption that interest rates were about to rise. However, interest rates have not risen.

The premature debt issuance is particularly concerning.

Anticipating financial market movement is called “Market Timing,” which is one of the most dangerous forms of financial management. It is a form of gambling that should never be done with public/taxpayer money.

The lessons we learn from the Mt. Daniel can be and should be applied to the upcoming George Mason project. The Mt. Daniel experience has exposed an array of governance, procedural and financial weaknesses.

We cannot repeat mistakes going forward—the very existence of the City is at risk.

Next: Debacle Illustrates the Need for Candid and Forthright Citizen Involvement

 

5 Comments on "The Mt. Daniel Expansion Debacle"

  1. Thank you, Ira, for writing and continuing to expose this mess. No one else is going to cover it. I would have more respect for those officials involved if they made a public statement to taxpayers and parents acknowledging the very poor execution and oversight of this project, and that improvements will be made going forward. Effective leadership includes admitting mistakes. Instead, they prefer to brush it all aside. Officials involved do not deserve to continue to manage this and other capital projects. Their credibility with the public is “shot” to speak. But, they want to continue to manage such projects including the much larger middle and high school rebuild. If any of these folks worked and managed projects where many of us worked, given their track record on this project their role going would be minimized. This is government so it is difficult to get rid of these folks, short of voting them out of office and forcing a change in school superintendent. So we are stuck with them but taxpayers should insist on some new players, like the newer members of the school board and others for example, so that the involvement of the current cast is reduced.

  2. Alison Kutchma | September 2, 2016 at 7:13 pm | Reply

    Do you need a permit to do the work that was done last summer up at Mt. Daniel? I would think one would need a permit to do that kind of electrical work.

  3. Linda Neighborgall | September 2, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Reply

    We are going to need more than active citizen involvement, though we certainly need that. And we desperately need for the SB and superintendent to acknowledge their mistakes and actually listen to and respect citizens’ views. Not just the views of school parents – the views of all the taxpayers who are paying through the nose for their costly mismanagement. We need recognition of the facts that the SB and superintendent are not competent to manage school facility construction; that the CC either cannot or will not assert control over school system mismanagement of construction and construction financing; and that there is a crying need for outside professional expertise and experience to bring order to the costly chaos that the SB, superintendent, CC and city manager have created.

  4. I would like to suggest that our school board form a finance committee that includes a few parent representatives. I would volunteer. We need school board and community members informed about how our money is spent and why. I wrote to Justin Castillo and John Lawrence in June of this year asking why the $77,778.00 contingency on the construction phase of the design build contract is already overspent by 213%. I have not heard a response. Why does this over billing of $88,000 not come up at a school board meeting, while principals are required to justify at length the $28,000 in copies they make each year? Why was the $65,000 generator purchase (also not discussed at a meeting) a change order and not part of the design build contract if it was an essential life safety or code required need?

    • Wonder if the generator was purchased after the referendum..figuring the project was a go and they would start early with this acquisition?
      I also heard they started taking out white boards and other interior things right after school ended…again, thinking the project was a go…then had to reinstall all of it.

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