EDITORIAL: School District Seeking Input on Possible Tax Increase, Part One

On behalf of the school board, I would like to thank you for attending our meeting yesterday. I have attached a summary of the comments from our noon and evening meetings as well as the scenario document. Please share this with friends and family, and please attend our meeting on December 5 in the High School commons area to give us your input on the scenarios…

— Email from School Board member Brooks Lindner, November 17, 2017

By my reckoning, about 0.5 percent of the registered voters in Archuleta County attended the two “facilities” presentations hosted by the Archuleta School District held on November 16, where we were handed a one-page spreadsheet showing possible ways the District might invest in expanded school facilities in the near future.

The near future… meaning, within the next couple of years. Assuming the voters are onboard.

School Board member Brook Lindner, center, explains the one-page chart of possible School District facilities projects at a community meeting on November 16, 2017.

Close to half of the participants on November 16 were either school district officials or members of the volunteer “Planning Assistance Team” — known among school district folks as “The PAT.” The PAT been working with consultants from Colorado Springs-based RTI Architects for several months, to develop a plan for spending millions of dollars on new school buildings.

The School Board has yet to make a decision on the “Master Plan,” so no exact dollar figure has been announced. The PAT has nevertheless narrowed the options down to six possible choices.

I would recommend that you download the one-page spreadsheet, because the District is seeking taxpayer input on a proposed “Facilities Master Plan.”

On Tuesday December 5, from 4-8:30pm, Pagosa Springs High School will be hosting their first home basketball games, and the School District Board of Education and Administration plan to set up informational displays in the commons area, just outside the gymnasium, where you will be able to view the six “scenarios” and make comments.

Admission to the basketball games is free. The new District facilities will not be free.

The six “Facilities Master Plan” scenarios that will be presented on December 5 will include, among other choices, Scenario A:

Scenario A. (Your Basic Repairs and Some Renovations.) Renovate the Elementary School with addition, new parking, playground, main office, gym. Renovate the Middle School buildings and playground. Minor renovations to the High School.

As already mentioned, the District has not yet provided us any actual estimates for these capital projects. On November 16, we were shown only a vague “dollar sign” symbols in the spreadsheet, like this:

According to the November 16 spreadsheet, ‘two dollars’ would cover ‘code upgrades’ to the four existing school buildings. ‘Three dollars’ would allow for more extensive renovations.

If we want to understand more precisely what “three dollars” might mean, we are unfortunately left to our own devices.

One of those devices might be the assessments of our local school buildings performed in 2008 by Blythe Architects, at the request of the School Board.  You can download the resulting Facilities Master Plan here</a.

Blythe estimated the cost to the District, to upgrade and repair its existing buildings, at approximately $10 million.  This dollar figure did not include new buildings — merely repairs and maintenance.

More about the Blythe study, in Part Three.

Another device might be assessments of the buildings done by the Colorado Department of Education eight years ago. The CDE experts analyzed the upgrades and repairs needed to bring our four existing school buildings up to a reasonable condition, and gave us an estimate of approximately $27 million for upgrades “necessary within 2-5 years.” That was eight years ago.

Once again, these are not “new buildings.” These are merely “Your Basic Repairs and Upgrades.”

None of the School District representatives who spoke at the November 16 “Master Plan” presentations referred to Blythe’s $10 million estimate, or CDE’s $27 million estimate. Over a year ago, the District hired its own consultants — RTA Architects — to re-analyze our facilities from the ground up, and re-estimate the District’s needs over the next couple of decades. (I doubt the price has gone down, but I’ve never heard any prices mentioned.)

At the other end of the cost spectrum, we find Scenario F:

Scenario F. (Your Basic High Cost Facilities Expansion.) Build a New School to house Preschool through 2 Grade. Remodel the Elementary School to house 3-5 Grades and District Administration. Build a New 6-8 Middle School. Upgrade the High School.

Again, we are shown vague “dollar sign” symbols in the spreadsheet. And again we are left without having clear, transparent information.

If the experts felt, a decade ago, that our Pagosa schools needed between $10 million and $27 million worth of ‘basic repairs and upgrades’… and if that approximate amount is being represented in the ASD spreadsheet as “three dollar signs”…

… then we might wonder what dollar amount is represented by the seven dollar signs in Scenario F:

You can attend a free basketball game on Tuesday, December 5 and offer your opinion on the six scenarios developed — with the able assistance of some out-of-town architects — by the Planning Assistance Team.

Your opinion is being sought. But you probably shouldn’t expect to learn how much those options will cost you, before you give your opinion. Nor are you likely to learn where the facilities will be located. You may have to base your opinion on very little actual information.

I readily admit to a fascination with government processes and with the tendency of our local government boards to ask taxpayers to endorse tax increases for projects that seem (to me) poorly described and illustrated, and lacking reasonable estimates of the price. Or worse yet, multi-million-dollar proposals that are just plain poorly planned.

Education does not need to be poorly planned.

A little over a year ago, a group of young Pagosa moms, concerned about the education of their children, submitted to the Archuleta School District a 453-page plan for a new charter elementary school, to be called Pagosa Peak Open School. The plan was aimed at serving about 75 kids in Year One, and about 135 kids by Year Five. Once the charter application was approved by the Archuleta School Board, the moms signed a multi-year lease with the owners of an underutilized office building — the Parelli Building — and converted the dry hillside on its west side into a fenced-in, grass-covered playground. The plan did not require a tax increase. The general approach taken by the moms, and by the staff they’ve subsequently hired, is: Do more with less.

The lengthy charter application was a crucial part of the process. It was written entirely by local volunteers. You can download the application and its appendices at the Pagosa Peak website.

The 453-page application included a proposed six-year budget which — as I mentioned — did not require a tax increase, for any taxpayers, anywhere.

The Archuleta School District is now in the process of developing what appears to be a tax increase proposal. The plan might cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in increased taxes.

Thus far, we’ve been given a one-page spreadsheet.

Read Part Two…

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