UPDATE: Sioux Falls School Bond Task Force threw transparency out the window

Now that the meetings are done, it’s time to look back on what was achieved and the multiple missteps the TF (Task Force) made when it came to transparency.

No matter whether you believe we should bond $190 million for new schools is really secondary to the process. It was NOT open, and I feel there is no intentions to keep it transparent moving forward.

I have mulled over several of the TF documents. Many important details are missing from the documents (that were available at some of the meetings). I did not attend the TF meetings but did watch 2-4 online. I have also been told by an attendee that they had to ASK for the TF documents at the 2nd meeting and were NOT available to the public (this is a violation of Open Meetings Laws). They were available at the 3rd and 4th meeting but NOT sure about the 1st meeting. But in the 3rd meeting, an important doc was missing in the publicly supplied materials; a spreadsheet of how all 30 TF members prioritized (all) proposed projects.

Some of these documents are available online (HERE) but most of them are not, including the Capital Outlay, just a short power point presentation. Not making ALL of the documents available to the public, either at the meetings or online could also be a violation of open meeting laws.

UPDATE: I found a document called “Bond Calculator” at the bottom of the document in small print it said this;

*The estimates above, are based upon financing the bonds over 25 years, using a 4% interest rate. The actual terms upon issuance will not be known until the bonds are sold. This calculator was created by the Sioux Falls School District and should be used for estimation purposes only.

Not only is this just an estimate – your taxes will go up over a 25 year period!

But that’s just the beginning.

Where the mystery starts is what happened between the 3rd and 4th meetings. The public was clearly left out of these negotiations, and my guess is that most of the TF members were to, or got docs at a separate time. It’s a head scratcher.

At the 3rd meeting the plan from the financial office and Super’s administration was to borrow the whole $190 million at the higher tax increase, all at once (I believe that was around $100 tax increase on a $185K valuation). It suddenly changed to $2 a month at the 4th meeting. This change was offered with little to NO explanation. They decided to spread out the tax increase (I believe over a 10 year period).

This is where they are not telling the story to the public or to the media. While it would be a $2 per month increase, that increase happens every year for the next ten years. In other words over the span of that time you will actually be paying $24 a month at the end. But that isn’t entirely true either, because you will also see an increase in your valuation, an increase yearly by the city council (they always pass this in July), opt outs from the County (they are building a new jail etc). And various other capital outlay levees. So while the first year this may be only $2 a month, that could easily be $240-$500 yearly increase by the end of the 10 year period. This of course hasn’t been explained to the public in great detail, so I’m speculating here. I can guarantee they are going to try to avoid that conversation moving towards the election this is why the strategy mysteriously changed in the dark of night between the 3rd and 4th meetings, unless specifically pressured by the media and the public to explain what the tax increase really looks like over the span of this loan they are going to move with the ‘$2 a month’ argument.

And let’s talk about the stand alone election they are planning for September 18. This has many issues in itself. I have been told by several voters who never miss an election that they voted in the 2017 stand alone school board election yet their ‘vote’ was never registered in voter data. Unlike using a ledger to mark off who voted in that election, they recorded the vote by computer. So were some people just not entered into the system that they voted even though their ballot was counted? Was the ballot counted? Some have suggested that a recount should occur of that election to make sure every one who actually voted gets put into the system. See, when you vote, government collects that data. They cannot record how you voted by they do know when you voted.

This is why a stand alone election ran by the School District is troubling. Will it be handled correctly? I’m not accusing the School District of voter manipulation, I’m just saying they have a poor record when running stand alone elections. Ballots locked up in cars, financial statements not available online, people showing up to absentee vote and the polling place is locked up or they have to wait for someone to unlock the room. All inexcusable sloppy practices.

While a stand alone election isn’t a bad thing, I think it is foolish to spend around $60K of taxpayer money on such an election when they could easily tie it into the General a couple of months away in November. Super Maher wants the election in September to move the bonds forward right away. But what’s a couple of months? Construction of the schools could occur year round, there is no reason to have a stand alone election unless there is a plan to hoodwink voters because they would have less people to convince to vote for this. Democracy works better when more people show up and participate. I actually think that they would get a higher percentage for the bond in the General because voter turnout is around 70% where school district stand alone elections have been as low as 4%. This is NO WAY to decide a historical $190 million dollar bond. Don’t think games haven’t been played before with supposed bond elections? Just look at the Events Center ‘advisory’ election. This was done because they knew they had little chance of getting the 60% passage like the school bond issue needs, so they made it a non-legally binding election and had the city council pass the bonds on an ‘advisory’ from the citizens. Oh, and there is also the concern that less precincts will be used like in the 2017 election where almost the entire North side of the city had NO polling places. Federal law is specific about disenfranchising voters – I’m looking into this more and will get back to you on it.

Some other interesting factors in the TF meetings;

• There was no definitive answer where the new HS would be located. The TF seemed to be split on whether to support accepting the Sanford gift of land. I look at this as a way for Sanford to position a HS by their sports complex and develop that area more. Is that a bad thing? Not sure, but something about the deal didn’t smell right to a lot of the TF members, including some people on the far east side of the district not having a new HS by the fastest growing part of the city, the SE corner. I suspect that the rubber stamp school board will graciously accept the Sanford gift just like they did with accepting the gift proposal.

• In the 2nd meeting, Doug Morrison, the new money dude purveyor for the school district who controversially got hired, said that overcrowding at Memorial could simply be solved by changing the boundaries and moving those students to McGovern which is only 60%(?) capacity. He said they don’t want to do that because they would anger some parents. What about the people who fund public education? If we could get by building only 1 or 2 schools instead of 3 wouldn’t that be beneficial to us in a lower bond and tax rate? The school board needs to make a bold move and change the boundaries. But they won’t.

• The chair and co-chair of the TF have possible conflicts of interest. Vernon Brown (Chair) is married to a teacher in the district and that teacher just happens to be life long friends with DeAnn Konrad, Public relations director for the school district. What kind of background information was Vernon provided by DeAnn around the kitchen table? DeAnn has also known Vernon for years, they used to work together at KELO-TV. I also wonder if Brown’s employer (SDN Communications) has any contracts with the school district? I don’t know? Does anybody else know?

Nan Baker (Co-Chair) is from the Baker family who owns First National Bank. Dougherty & Company who does bonding for many city, state, county and school district bonds must run those bonds through First National Bank. You can come to your own conclusion on that.

The DRAFT proposal will be presented to the School Board on June 6th at 2 PM, IPC center, they will vote on the final proposal on June 11 at the regular meeting at 5:30. I highly suggest the public shows up and starts asking hard questions about this bond. I think we should support funding public education, but we should also be fiscally responsible and transparent about it. The plan I have seen so far doesn’t even come close.



10 comments ↓

#1 Lemming on 06.02.18 at 9:01 pm

Two observations. Someone has been visiting the lunch room entirely too often. Secondly, thank you for pointing out the pyramid effect on the tax bumps. I thought 2 dollars a month sounded suspicious for 190 million in new buildings!

#2 l3wis on 06.02.18 at 9:36 pm

It’s ridiculous on it’s face. Even if every man, woman, child and baby infant in this city gave $1,000 each tomorrow to the School District, we would still be $2 million short of the proposed bond – and that doesn’t include the interest, service fees and change orders which will add millions more. $2 a month, hilarious. How long would it take you to pay off $1,000 + debt if you paid $2 a month towards that debt? Even if you were a Wookie you couldn’t do it. I recall what former Mayor Coors Light and Olives said right before he left office, that SF citizens have some of the lowest debt per capita of any city in the region. Pass this bond and that will all change in a split second.

#3 "Very Stable Genius" on 06.02.18 at 11:52 pm

“said that overcrowding at Memorial could simply be solved by changing the boundaries and moving those students to McGovern which is only 60%(?) capacity. He said they don’t want to do that because they would anger some parents.”

Just think about the Memorial Middle School district for a moment. It is safe to say that most of the expensive homes are around and north of MS and closer to McGovern Middle School than the homes in the southern part of the current MMS district. So if you were to redo the boundaries for McGMS and MMS, then the wealthier inhabitants of the current MMS district would be the ones which the Board would make “angry.” So to accommodate those more wealthier neighborhoods, well, I guess they have just decided to tax everyone else more, in order to make that wealthier group content…. This is a classic example of how this town is truly a “Tale of Two Cities,” and an other example also of how the “Taupe Housing Society of Conformity” gets their way at the expense of others as a part of that “Tale”..… I guess conformity pays off sometimes, huh?….

#4 anonymous on 06.03.18 at 10:44 am

If you are not a Task Force member and were not in *attendance at the four task force meetings, these are the supporting documents that are missing from the District’s website:

Task Force Meeting #2:

District Facility Funding Options

Task Force Funding 101:

SFSD FY19 Budget
SFSD Capital Outlay Fund

Elementary School Options to Accommodate Growing Enrollment

Middle School Options to Accommodate Growing Enrollment

High School Options to Accommodate Growing Enrollment

Other Major Facility Considerations (> $5 million) to Fund through Bond Referendum

Other Projects to be Considered (< $5 million) through Bond Referendum

Other Projects Recommended for Hold

Appendix

Projects Out of Scope of Task Force Not to be considered through Bond Referendum:

Other Projects to be Considered through Capital Outlay/O&M

__________________________________________

Capital Improvement Planning:

Whittier Middle School

Capital Improvement Planning:

Cleveland Elementary

__________________________________________

Task Force Meeting #3

SFSD K-2 Students by Zip Code (map)

2017 Approved Residential Developments and SFSD-map
(Units remaining to be built as of December 31, 2017)

Map- SFSD Middle School

Map-SFSD High School

SFSD FY19 Budget

SFSD Capital Outlay Fund

SFSD Bond Impact Calculator

FOLLOWING DOCUMENT NOT ON THE SFSD WEBSITE OR PROVIDED ON PAPER TO THE PUBLIC ATTENDING THE MEETING:

Members of the Task Force were asked individually to prioritize all proposed projects. The results of this survey were presented at the meeting.

*This is a violation of South Dakota's Open Meetings Law. One paper copy of each supporting document must be made available at the meeting.

____________________________________________

Task Force Meeting #4

Sioux Falls School District Bond Impact Calculator

SFSD Survey Feedback

Facilities Task Force Report SFSD
Donovan Group School Communications
Version 1.4
May 30, 2018

___________________________________________

*Attendance (public):

Task Force Meeting #2: 2
Task Force Meeting #3: 1
Task Force Meeting #3: 3

___________________________________________

Taken directly from the SFSD's website:

OUR DISTRICT/STRATEGIC PLANNING/FACILITIES PLANNING/MEETING INFORMATION

The 30-member Task Force charged with determining future facility needs for the Sioux Falls School District met four times in April and May at the Instructional Planning Center. Co-Chairs Nan Baker and Vernon Brown led each meeting, which included presentations from District leaders and the City on current enrollment, projected enrollment, growth in the city, and basic facility information regarding age and condition. All materials discussed at the meeting are available on the website and livestreamed on the District’s YouTube channel.

__________________________________________

NOTE: In the above District communication:

All materials discussed at the meeting are available on the website……

Up until June 1, 2018, the only information available to the public on the District's website were the Agendas for the four meetings.

On June 1, the District put up a 4 page Powerpoint .

As of today, June 3, 2018, all supporting documents listed above are not available on the SFSD's website.

___________________________________________

Was this a transparent process? Do you believe it will be a transparent process moving forward?

#5 Warren Phear on 06.03.18 at 12:01 pm

Thanks Scott. Very few know at this point how much this is really going to cost the typical SF homeowner. This current school board approach is classic bait and switch. There are some who need no explanation. They know the numbers cannot and do not add up. The school board knows this cannot possibly pass if they were truthful with the numbers. So, they bait, then they switch, year by agonizing year. How our local media handles this bait and switch is key to how this ends up.

Do we need a new high school? Probably, but how bad would we need one yesterday if open enrollment and redistricting were looked at? Class size and overcrowding? I started my senior year of high school with a 10-12 enrollment of 3300 at the old Washington High. Was it crowded? Yes. Did it work? Yes. Can it work now? Sure. Which by the way, begs the question. Why couldn’t the money pit known as the Washington Pavillion once again be the home of the Warriors?

#6 D@ily Spin on 06.03.18 at 8:43 pm

What’s disappointing is public interest. The school board dictates and gets because there’s no public intervention. I favor more school taxes. Then, there will be attention and action. I don’t have children in school. Raise taxes enough and I’ll find a better place in South Dakota neighboring Sioux Falls. Tea, Brandon, and Canton have more school children but less taxes and more public involvement. What the Sioux Falls school district pays management is disgusting. What and how budget is spent is lavish if not over priced. Yet, teachers are underpaid and class sizes are huge.

#7 Peter "mega" Pischke on 06.04.18 at 3:46 pm

The worst kept secret in teachers circles is that McGovern is a Triple AAA Disaster, and pretty much the closest thing Sioux Falls has to a failing inner-city school.

Teachers get threatened, students gets threatened, no one listens.

I’d be P.O.’d if someone made my kid go to McGovern.

#8 Warren Phear on 06.04.18 at 6:09 pm

PmP, whether it is a worst kept secret or not, why do you think this situation, if in fact it is a situation, exists?

#9 Peter "mega" Pischke on 06.05.18 at 4:20 pm

Warren, I honestly can’t nail it down to one exact reason.

I’ve heard that Admin is primarily to blame because they don’t listen to parents and take no action to separate or report problematic students.

Another common explanation is that the kids at that school also tend to be coming from lower-income areas, and that there are more problematic students there as well.

Its hard to know exactly when the Argus won’t report on it, the school board won’t publicly acknowledged it. And there are no teachers brave enough to come out publicly to talk about it.

I do know for a fact that staff have been threatened when they even get close to talking about it. Substitutes included.

There

#10 Anothyrmous on 06.21.18 at 9:14 pm

The documents aren’t easy to find, but they are there. See “Facilities Task Force Documents” at the bottom of http://www.sf.k12.sd.us/our-district/vision-and-mission/facilities-planning (direct pdf at http://www.sf.k12.sd.us/images/docs/community_relations/community_engagement/TF_Documents.pdf). Videos of task force meetings are available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/SiouxFallsSchools/videos. 🙂

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