School district moves forward with facilities assessment

Several board members say policy was violated in committee taking action without board approval

BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
PCC EDITOR

FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison School Board was updated Monday night on the progress of a facilities’ assessment that is scheduled to take place in the coming months.

At Monday’s board workshop, things got a bit tense when board members Jared Hotop and Brad Menke questioned why the recommendation from the district’s facilities committee wasn’t brought in front of the board.

Board member Brian Steffensmeier read a prepared statement to the board that indicated FMCSD Director of Operations Nic Chiri is moving forward with the facilities study with Estes Construction, a construction firm with offices in West Des Moines and Davenport, that specializes in K-12 educational planning.

The Iowa Association of School Boards has worked with Estes to create the Iowa Construction Advocate Team. The program offers what it calls an Integrated Project Delivery model which has been used by many Iowa school districts, including recently Burlington and Central Lee.

According to the statement, “Any future solution, whether it’s new construction, renovations, or additions, will require the district to pursue financing options for funding improvements.”

Those possible funding sources could include a Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) which board member Carol Ross said would require a 50% +1 approval from district voters; general obligation bonds; and/ or local options sales tax, now called SAVE, funds, which would require another approved Revenue Purpose Statement. That statement would also require a 50% +1 approval.

The district last approved an RPS in September 2009 with a 54.3% approval. In August of 1999, district voters approved using local option sales tax money for educational purposes with a 54.5% approval. However, at the time, that vote didn’t carry a sunset clause, so state legislators later imposed a 2030 sunset on approvals throughout the state.

Approval of the RPS would allow the district to borrow on SAVE funds, which were recently extended by state legislators through 2050. According to board president Tim Wondra, the district can’t use any of the SAVE money until after the middle school has been paid off.

Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said the earliest the district could put the RPS in front of voters would be in March.

But Hotop and Menke expressed concern that the board may have violated board policy by not bringing the recommendation before the board before moving forward with the project.

According to the School board policy 208-R, “The Board of Directors possesses certain legal powers and prerogatives which cannot be delegated or surrendered to others. Therefore, all recommendations of an advisory committee must be submitted to the Board for action.”

“It looks like decisions were made and, according to our policy, committees are to recommend things to the board. It looks like the decision was already made and I hadn’t seen any board voting come across for that $22,000,” Hotop said.

He said he was in favor of moving forward with the assessment, but argued the board was breaking policy by not allowing board action.

School policy doesn’t, however, require board approval on consulting services that don’t exceed $25,000.

Slater said the committee made the recommendation to have Chiri to spend the money on the assessment because it was under the $25,000 and a vote by the board wasn’t required.

“This did not meet that threshold. This is a staffing decision by the facilities committee to recommend that Nic’s department conduct this assessment. Once the assessment is done, we will bring it back for any decisions that will be made by the board,” Dr. Slater said.

Menke said he was in agreement with Hotop and said committees are a board tool for research and not to tell people to spend money.

“If you would have brought it in front of us, it would have gotten voted on,” Menke said.

Steffensmeier, who sits on the committee, said he agreed that it should have been brought in front of the board.

“I agree, Jared, to get transparency we should have had a vote on it,” Steffensmeier said.

Hope said the transparency is in the letter of the recommendation and any talk of a general obligation bond is off the table.

“What we’re looking at is our facilities as a whole and what do we need to serve our students based on what we currently have,” Hope said.

“The transparency is coming here at this point in time. It’s an interim report, because the facilities report will be coming from Estes and that will be shared with the facilities committee and then it will come to the board.”

“(The policy) doesn’t say the board will vote on anything,” Slater said. “Recommendations will be brought to you. You’re being informed about the recommendation that was made.”

Ross, Steffensmeier, and Hope, along with District Director of Marketing and Online Technology Sebastian Seifert, Marketing Specialist Kayla Schwartz, Slater, District Business Manager Sandy Elmore, Curriculum Director Kim Harmon, and Chiri all sit on the committee.

Wondra, along with Hope, DiPrima, and Ross all indicated that the committee is working properly by recommending Chiri move forward with the project, which is expected to begin immediately and last about two weeks.

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