BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A local foundation that donates thousands of dollars every year to local youth sports activities is pulling its funding in a protest of sorts against the proposed school bond issue.
A letter released Monday night from The Baxter Foundation alerted past and present recipients of funding from the Foundation that it will not be funding any further requests in 2019 due to the Fort Madison Community School District’s decision to spend unnecessary amounts with an out-of-town construction firm for a new elementary school.
“Unfortunately, the School District elected to use an out-of-town firm to represent it in this year’s bond election with little history of supporting local youth athletics or the Sports Complex. Furthermore, the taxes imposed upon the payments to the selected firm will not benefit the Fort Madison Community School District, but will benefit another Iowa District…Since the School District has opted to disregard the plans presented by Baxter Construction, unnecessarily spend additional taxpayer money, and implement a program that does not benefit young athletes in the fashion proposed by Baxter Construction, the Foundation cannot continue to supplement the School District’s efforts to grow its youth sports programs; especially, when the District itself chose to ignore the presented plans and waste available financial resources.”
The foundation was created more than 10 years ago by Tony and Cindy Baxter to help supplement costs for youth athletic programs in the local economy.
On Tuesday, Tony Baxter said it was time to take a stand.
“Am I upset because they didn’t select my company? Yep,” Baxter said. “I’m upset because they are wasting money and didn’t select a local company.
I’m upset because they didn’t listen to the public the last time a $30 million proposal was voted down. That’s a big part of it. I know it can be built for a lot less money. There is a better program.”
Baxter said he sincerely hopes a new school is built in Fort Madison, but he said he hopes the bond referendum on April 2 does not pass because there are less expensive ways to get the building built without wasting taxpayer money.
Pen City Current contacted Fort Madison School Board President Dr. Tim Wondra for comment on the letter. Wondra said he saw the letter Monday night, but said the district had no official comment on it.
Baxter said the foundation usually grants funding requests locally for anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000 per year.
The mission statement from the Baxter Foundation reads in part: “Founded in 2010 by Tony and Cindy Baxter, The Baxter Family Foundation was created with the goal of providing financial support to the youth athletic programs for all ages in the local community. The foundation assists local programs in many ways; it contributes monetarily to individual teams to help with costs of entry fees, uniforms, equipment, etc. It also grants funds to use for the creation or permanent betterment of athletic facilities, it can be a source of low/no interest loans for groups looking to raise money, and provide financial support to help further the athletic career of disadvantaged children.”
Baxter said he and his wife created the foundation so that no child in the area would be left out due to the inability to pay.
“You’d see parents every weekend during travel ball seasons talk about how expensive it was and we couldn’t get a lot of youth to play,” he said. “I wanted to help do something.”
He said the foundation created a board, which includes local businessmen / women and school members. When the board was created, applications were taken and funding requests were reviewed and granted.
“I’ve never done this for glory. Never talked to the media about it. Avoided these editorials. But this is a let down. You try to do what you can for the youth of the community and the school does what they do to you.”
He said the letter was to let people know why the funding wasn’t available, because the district was going against its own mission statement.
Baxter also said he’s upset that the district is still touting a $30 million bond without the ballparks included. The ballparks were in the last attempt, which was also $30 million. The difference in this bond is that additional traffic control systems are being included to alleviate past traffic concerns
“I’m just letting people know why we are not funding it. At some point people like me are going to stop donating. It’s time to take a stand,” he said.
Baxter said he also would have taken profits his company would gain from being the construction manager on the project and donate it to the Baxter Sports Complex to make those fields compatible with Iowa High School Athletic Association and the Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union specifications for high school play.
“I would have donated profits to the sports plex facility and we would have made those fields comply with requirements. They would have had their fields included, but they went a different direction,” he said.
The district awarded the construction management contract to Carl A. Nelson in October on a tight 4-3 vote with Wondra and board members Carol Ross, Lois DiPrima, and former board member Gayla Young voting in favor of Nelson. Dianne Hope, Jarod Hotop, and Brian Steffensmeier voted for Baxter’s proposal. Young passed away on January 1st and her seat was filled by Josh Wykert.
Baxter said at a minimum, the board needs to take a step back and rethink the program put together to build the new school.
“Keep Carl A Nelson, if you want, but come up with the right plan. This is more about the money and the community. I say take a deep breath and design a proper program. I wanted to delay the vote until later in the year so we didn’t rush through something so important,” he said.
The bond issue is set for an April 2 vote, but absentee voting is currently ongoing at the Lee County Auditor’s office. Satellite voting will also take place on Friday from noon to 6 p.m. at the Fort Madison High School and from 7 a.m. to noon on March 29, at the Fort Madison Community Hospital.