The following letter was sent to School Superintendent Dr. Bryan Johnson and Board of Education Chairman Steve Highlander (copying all members of the Board) on September 12, 2017.
To: Dr. Bryan Johnson and Chairman Steve Highlander
CC: Joe Galloway, Karitsa Jones, Kathy Lennon, Tiffanie Robinson, Joe Smith, David Testerman, Rhonda Thurman, Joe Wingate
Dear Dr. Johnson and Chairman Highlander:
The county commission’s move last week to provide $100 million to the school system for capital projects was bold and encouraging. However, that amount will not come close to fully funding all immediate capital needs for our schools. Estimates for replacing, expanding, and repairing our schools have varied in recent years from $180 million up to double that amount, though no definitive dollar value is known because a comprehensive facility assessment has not been conducted.
As a result, UnifiEd calls for a capital audit and multi-year plan to ensure increased efficiency in spending and decisions that achieve equitable distribution based on need rather than politics. Further, such an audit and capital plan are fundamentally necessary to restore and maintain the public’s confidence that their tax dollars are well spent.
The audit should provide an unbiased assessment of facility safety issues due to deferred maintenance, school capacity and population growth trends, building quality, and estimated cost to repair or replace schools.
The findings of this audit should be used to create a multi-year plan that prioritizes projects that:
- Address safety issues due to deferred maintenance,
- Result in operational savings that can be reinvested into the classroom,
- Reduce the concentration of students living in poverty in certain schools, and/or
- Eliminate overcrowding.
A long-term capital plan was also recommended by a group of business and community leaders whose independent review of school system spending and report on recommendations for efficiencies was released this spring. The group applied approaches utilized by the largest corporations and smallest businesses alike to ensure fiscal responsibility, and UnifiEd backs their best practice recommendations on this issue.
UnifiEd, on behalf of the community, therefore calls on the Board of Education to pass a resolution as soon as possible to hire an external audit firm or allocate dedicated staff to perform a thorough review of the state of our schools’ facilities and needs. We further call for the Board to commit to making the resulting audit report publicly available and using it as the basis of its decisions on allocation of funds for capital projects.
Executive Director, UnifiEd