The following is my response to Guy Evans’ Safety Valve letter (“Busey misrepresents education needs,” April 14).
First, my approach to this massive Lake Chelan School District $75.5 million bond issue is really fairly simple. The newly proposed $59 million high school is not needed; the enrollment does not justify a new school and third campus.
As it has been repeatedly pointed out, the district enrollment has been flat for 20 years —and even declining the past three years. Furthermore, as I am sure you would understand, another unnecessary campus will significantly increase maintenance, operations and core staffing costs.
According to school board member Jeff Fehr when I asked the question where the new revenue will come to pay for those increased costs, I was told the board will consider that in the normal annual budgeting process. Since there has not been any increase in enrollment (new revenue), those costs will have to be paid from an increase in taxes to the community. This is a fairly simple fact.
Second, I do understand the rental revenue and the use of that revenue to offset district capital improvement costs over time.
In 2000, the school board and I negotiated the initial terms of those rents with thorough local market rate surveys and advertisements of spaces available.
When I asked Jeff Fehr if the district recently completed a market rate rental survey, he stated they had not. When I further asked about whether the district advertised the vacant space for rent, he stated that they had not.
So, the district vacates a quality, existing space for district administrative operations, and spends $1 million to remodel “other space” so they can rent their current office to Chelan Fresh? The only “reason” given for this $1 million expenditure is that the district can consolidate the administration into one office; the special programs admin is just a few steps across the street and this is not an operational hardship.
As you know, this $1 million remodel for a new district administration office was not in the ballot title, nor the school board official bond resolution in 2013.
The community should be concerned and troubled about this re-prioritization of these funds away from the needs of student learning.
You state that this expenditure is a wise fiscal decision. Far from it— it is highly nonsensical and a waste of valuable resources paid by the taxpayer in the special election of 2013.
Third, the issue of “choice in students” has another simple solution. As you are aware, I was asked about about the number of choice in students due to the “crowded” issue being promoted as a need for this massive $75.5 million bond issue.
Having worked in numerous school districts and consulted with many more, I would suggest that the current choice in students be grandfathered until they graduate.
This would be a simple policy change: Allow the current students to remain in the district but do not allow new students to enroll. This will help with the “crowded” issues that some say is a concern today. This is not disruptive to the current students and families and ensures, over time, that the community is not unfairly paying local taxes for students that reside in other communities.
Finally, and I believe we do agree on this, there are some capital improvements that are needed in the Lake Chelan School District.
Those prioritized and identified improvements can be made with small capital improvement tax levies. The current educational system in the Lake Chelan schools does not need a new $59 million high school. It does not need a third campus, nor the substantial increases in costs to the local community in perpetuity for maintenance and operations. Furthermore, the district does not need $7 million to make “improvements” in the current high school football field.
Thus, the only “solution” to this current proposal is for the community to defeat this bond issue and then ask the school board and superintendent to reconsider a common sense, fiscally prudent approach to the education of our students.
Jim Busey lives in Chelan and is a former superintendent of the Lake Chelan School District.