With No “Financial GPS” and Citizens Eyes “Wide Shut” by Council and School Board, Move Is on to Build More Apartments

    • With No Significant Commercial Development How Many Apartments Needed to Pay for a New School?

    • The City Has Built About a 1,000 Condominiums  and Apartments–and the Tax Rate Keeps Escalating.

    • How Many Apartments Will Be Enough–2,000?  3,000?  4,000?

    • Who Knows?

    • No One.

    • That’s the Point.

By Ira Kaylin

Kaylin is a former member of the City Council and co-chair of its Budget and Finance Committee

On February 5th the City Council and School Board had another community meeting to discuss the GMHS site and facts were hidden by manipulating the agenda.

Community Meeting: A Pep Rally for Preselected Option

It is certainly the prerogative of those convening a meeting to set the agenda. However, this was supposed to be an informational and feedback oriented meeting.  It was not supposed to be a “Pep” rally for a particular option.

By refusing to consider the issue of annual operating costs,  the Council and the School Board are ignoring the chief threat to maintaining the quality education that the citizens expect and deserve.

What About Classroom Needs–Your Children’s Needs

Capital costs and operating costs are interrelated; the ability to fund future school costs, in part, depends on our ability to reduce long term costs.

In fact, the meeting should have been about how are we going to pay our teachers in the future and not how big and not how quickly can construct a new building.

The Approval Choreography Is All Too Transparent

  • The City produces a Power Point that contains alleged timing and financial options.
  • No sources for the option’s offered are cited. In fact it appears that all options have been prepared by one company—ARCADIS— which is employed by the School on a virtual retainer basis. The same firm has been involved in the cost over runs in the Thatcher, TJ and now infamous Mt. Daniel projects. The City official was asked to provide the source data but simply refused to answer.
  • As a result, the fundamental basis for decision making–that is, the independence of the firm(s) preparing the various options is entirely lacking. Thus, there is an obvious and profound Conflict of Interest.
  • Without independent review it can be expected that any firm would steer the decision toward the option that produces the most profit.
  • Not surprisingly, we understand that full funding of the project ($112 million) was deemed preferred.
  • On the commercial development side, it is not burdened by any publishable data.

Building a “Head of Steam” 

The concept being driven by the Council and School Board is to generate increased pressure on those who would prefer independent analysis before going forward. The chant ‘we need the school now” will become a “mantra”. When the level of intensity of the mantra is sufficient it will become clear that parts of any planned retail/commercial component project will rapidly fall by the wayside.

Giving Developers Leverage over Falls Church

By advertising commercial development as a key to the $112 million project the “Cheerleaders” have already showed developers our hand. We have made it clear that we are desperate. Thus, what will our negotiators use to get the best price?

It is expected that under the stress of getting something approved quickly and the need to alleviate pressure on the tax rate the Council, irrespective of any plan that may exist the Council will agree to take on more apartment construction. We will hear again that there is a no market for commercial space and that developers are only willing to support mixed use projects at best. That appears to be accurate.

The Washington Post has already commented that the regional financial out look is ‘not rosy’. Empty retail space at the Reserve at Tinner Hill, the absence of promised retail usage at the Kensington end of life facility are examples of the difficulty in securing retail/commercial space.

Relieving Stress: Temple Grandin Would Approve

Temple Grandin is best known for two achievements as a: 1) spokesperson for those with Autism and, 2) devising a mechanism that relieves stress (increases profits) on cattle being led to slaughter.  As regards the second item her device is still the industry standard.

 

One cannot help but feel a sense of “déjà vu”.  The outcome of the community meeting was well known in advance; the clamor for doing “something” now;  the biased presentations justifying why we can, and should, build now–especially the financial data presentations, which borders on “fake” news.

The “crowd” is becoming more emotional and less interested in long term viability of the City.

One senses that we are entering the first major passage way to the “financial slaughter house” that was set up to relieve our anxiety and stress by simply claiming whatever needs to be claimed to make sure that we enter the final stop relaxed and calm.

It is in that sense Temple Grandin would approve.

There Are Alternatives

If one believes the presentations provided by the City and Schools that the best approach would be to ask the citizens to pre-approve, through a Referendum, a tax rate that could reach, to pick a number, $1.50. The benefits would be:

  • Avoid the necessity of building more and more apartments.
  • Permit greater opportunity for the City to choose the most profitable/desirable projects without have a financial gun at its back.
  • Commercial development negotiations could begin on a “level” playing field. The tax rate growth would be reduced as the commercial component proceeds. The City would not be negotiating from a position of desperation.
  • Timing and selection of retail and clients could reflect the needs of the City over time rather than as at a given moment.

But that option is too forthright and too candid for this Council and School Board.

3 Comments on "With No “Financial GPS” and Citizens Eyes “Wide Shut” by Council and School Board, Move Is on to Build More Apartments"

  1. Alison Kutchma | February 12, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Reply

    Ira:

    Thank you for this article. It is incredibly important to consider operating costs as we plan this project so I appreciate you bringing this issue to the community’s attention. Those costs should be projected and provided with these plans so we can see the whole picture for the purposes of financial planning. I completely agree that we need to know what the costs will be to fill this building with teachers for the projected enrollment. In addition, I would like to see the projected costs and staffing requirements for our k-12 IB program over the projected enrollment which includes an increasingly complex special education population (which requires programs and trained staff.) The IB program has staffing requirements (classes). Can we afford to run this program for this projected enrollment? What does that cost?

    I also believe that we need to look at where our education dollars are going currently in order to determine that the money we are spending now is being spent wisely to serve the most children. This is something that greatly concerns me given the fact that our former Superintendent Toni Jones was intentionally not forthcoming about the costs to roll out the Middle Years Program or the annual cost of the IB program. That was a deliberate school board choice by former leadership. We are now hearing more openly now that our teachers do not even have time to log on to a needed webinar yet for the last three years on their early release Wednesday they have been required to attend and participate in “realigning the curriculum” to fit the requirements of MYP. It is very clear no one was tabulating this labor cost nor assessing it’s impact on other students or programs. I would like to see the new board request a full cost accounting and assess where that decision has left us system-wide in terms of serving all students.

    I think we are at a perfect juncture to ask for an education audit system-wide to see how our money is spent, tied to education outcomes to see if there are adjustments that should be made. I think we need to do this in order to make the most informed decisions about physical space. It is disturbing to hear of unmet needs in our schools including parents paying for outside services to teach their children to read, yet some groups of students who are already excelling having access to small group advanced science instruction with a teacher. Perhaps if a student is ready for college level work they could take a class at NVCC or on-line to free up the teacher for the students whose needs are greater. I am curious if the construction plans include classroom space for the 6 students who currently take the higher level advanced chemistry class and is it appropriate to ask the taxpayers of this community to pay for this? If we had endless resources, of course I would want to provide it but since we do not, I think it is a valid question. I think an audit is very needed and each year I hope to hear these questions discussed in the budget work sessions. I will be all ears on Tuesday night.

  2. The debacle with Mt. Daniel significantly underscores that citizens of FCC simply cannot trust the school board with regard to capital improvement projects..

  3. Ira,
    Thanks for your enlightening article. Not until now, did I understand the concern a few persons have voiced about increasing school operating costs; I just assumed a bigger school would require more cleaning, heating, upkeep etc… not such a big deal. But, after reading your article, I get that operating costs are going to grow much higher regardless of a new school or not because operating costs are a function (mostly) of the number of students, and enrollment is slated to increase markedly. If our tax rates need to go to $ 1.50 to pay capital costs, how much higher will they have to go to pay the cost of increased operating costs which are coming hand-in-hand with increased enrollment? I share your frustration, now that I understand the situation, that know one in city leadership is addressing our ability to pay increased operating costs . And since 80% of the school’s budget is salaries, what we (like you said) are really talking about is how are we going to be able to pay the teachers if we’ve spend all our money on a new expensive school.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


*