The Leopold Referendum: No Due Diligence

I oppose the Leopold School referendum.
I oppose it not because I’m a Republican (I’m not), not because I’m a Democrat (I’m not, though the Mayor would have you believe that that would constitute an oxymoron — a sad commentary on what it means to be a Democrat, seems to me), but because opposing the Leopold referendum is the responsible decision.
(My political leaning, if you must know: A left wing conservative! “Always do the right thing, leaving as much money as you can to do more right things.”).
The Leopold referendum wastes $10M over 15 years.
The only real motivation for this blindness was “we promised the Leopold parents back in 2002”, and great lobbying by the Leopold crowd — to the potential detriment of other schools and kids in the district. Placing this promise in perspective, in 2002, when the promise was first made, the estimate for a new school at Leopold was $7M. In 2004, the initial estimate became $11M; the referendum now calls for $14.5M — a 200% increase from 2002. Quite a jump!
The most responsible decision the Board could have made was to construct another addition to the Leopold school, borrowing up to $10M from the State Trust Fund (no referendum is required), as we did for the 2003 addition to Leopold. And we wouldn’t have to pay for a new principal at this new school, at $100,000+ per year, because their wouldn’t be a new school! Another savings. (Or maybe build the $7M school, originally promised?).
Our savings of $10M over the referendum is the difference between the 15-year cost of the referendum and the anticipated principle and interest payments back to the State on the $10M loan. Our 15-year cost is $23M, not the $14.5M, which is the money we get to keep. The $23M is this $14.5M plus the 60% increase Madison taxpayers are required to pay under the State’s Equalization Forumla — we’re paying welfare to other school districts!
What could we do with the $10M not spent on the Leopold site? Make additions to southwest schools to accommodate expected growth (also limits growth at Leopold), and additions to schools on the east side: both will be needed anyway.
And this would have been the prudent thing to do, given the flux in the Ridgewood apartments area, which calls into question the growth estimates for Leopold.
The School Board failed to follow their own policy and consider an addition to Leopold as an alternative, instead jumping full speed ahead, without deliberation, to building a new school. In fact, the Long Range Planning citizen committee, that was charged with the initial deliberations, spent the majority of their time at meetings, practising their Leopold referendum campaign speeches, instead of deliberating over the substance. Their lack of even reasonable due diligence in the execution of their responsibilties leaves the voters to make emotional instead of logical and factual decisions.
Send the referendum back to them. Demand that do their job. When they’ve done their due diligence, then we can talk.

2 thoughts on “The Leopold Referendum: No Due Diligence”

  1. Two quick points.
    School construction costs have jumped since 2002 due to code changes and increases in the cost of several commodities, although not enough to account for all of the increase. The plan on the ballot includes remodeling of the older section of the current Leopold school and is a detailed design as opposed to the quick estimate (clearly low) from 2002 and that may account for the balance of the increase.
    Borrowing from the state trust fund is repaid out of the operating budget instead of long term debt service. To the extent that one believes MMSD is facing a budget crunch under the revenue cap, then carving out additional repayment under the cap and crowding out program funding is an unwise idea.

  2. Indeed the principle and interest will need to come out of the operating budget; the amount determined by the term of the loan and percentage interest. It may even require a referendum to the operating budget to pay for it. Assuming 4% over 15 years on $10M, yearly payments would be approximately $890K.
    The point is, if you don’t need to spend $14.5M ($23M after 60% equalization penalty), then you are saving money!
    The 2002 addition cost $2.05M and they added 8 classrooms in the new wing, added 5 classrooms in the older section, plus elevator, library and some etceteras. I argued a maximum addition of $10M because that is the upper limit for borrowing. If an addition comparable to the 2002 addition would cost $5M at today’s prices, and it would be adequate to solve the needs at the Leopold site, then that seems to be a good thing to me.
    But, the point being the Board argument for the new school on the Leopold site was based on a promise made in 2002 when the estimate was $7M — drastically different from the $14.5M now.
    And, now, money being spent on Leopold could be spent better elsewhere. An addition to the school was not even considered by the Board, LRP or the Administration during the 7 months leading up to the decision. This is contrary to the Board’s own policies. The order of reviews that the Board has committed to follow is 1) internal modification of the existing school; 2) boundary changes; 3) building an addition; 3) building a new school.
    The LRP did NOT follow this order. Instead they only looked at “build a new school”. Only after the decision to go to referendum did they start the discussion of boundary changes, and then came up with the most draconian of changes. They never presented, and were never requested to present scenarios for constructing an addition, instead of a new school.
    This failure to follow what to me seems the responsible approach is the key problem.

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