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Local Democratic Party opposes school bond issue

On Tuesday, a press release and resolution from the Archuleta County Democratic Party (ACDP) was made available to The SUN, both documents stating opposition to a $49 million bond initiative on November’s ballot asking voters to fund new school buildings.

Nevertheless, while clear in its opposition to the bond initiative, the resolution appears to have been drafted without the benefit of checking facts or uncovering available data that would have necessitated the exclusion of several points raised in the document.

As such, it raises the question of how much homework members of the ACDP’s executive committee attempted prior to the release of the resolution.

“It is in part because of the tough economic climate we’re experiencing here in Archuleta County that ACDP is convinced this is not the time to subject the school district’s taxpayers to an additional burden of $98 million in new debt,” an ACDP press release stated. Ninety-eight million dollars is the highest estimate for the amount of debt the $49 million bond would create after interest due.

The press release went on to state, “ACDP also believes that the board’s determination to focus its attention this past year on a plan to construct a new consolidated school campus on 53 acres purchased at a cost of $300,000 from the district’s capital budget has been rushed and poorly conceived from the outset. Rather than focusing on the need to make necessary repairs and maintenance to the school buildings we already have here, ACDP is concerned that the board has relied far too heavily on the advice given them by a few out-of-town consultants whose firms stand to make substantial profits if this bond question passes. Indeed, ACDP believes the community has largely felt, throughout this process, that the board and superintendent concerned themselves far more with the counsel and advice they’ve received from these consultants (who serve on the School Facilities Advisory Committee) than they have with anything the public might care to suggest about the plan.”

Having taken a clear position in its press release, the final statement, “For the foregoing and following reasons, the Archuleta County Democratic Party has adopted this resolution opposing November’s school bond ballot issue,” is where the ACDP’s stand began to unravel with numerous, factually challenged statements.

Tuesday’s press release was followed by a faxed copy of the ACDP resolution, signed and dated by party chair Nan Rowe. That resolution stated a number of objections the ACDP had regarding the bond initiative including: the district’s offer last year to teachers for early retirement; “chronic maintenance neglect” of existing schools; the proposed location of a consolidated campus; objections to the composition of the School Facilities Advisory Committee (SFAC); uncertainty of the cost of the project; questions about the integrity of the bond company chosen to establish funding mechanisms, as well as prearranged contracts with that company and the district; and the failure of the district to pursue alternate funding.

According to Rowe, the ACDP met Aug. 30 (the same night the district hosted a public forum and voted on ballot language for the bond initiative) and directed her to draft a resolution. Rowe claimed that the executive committee of the ACDP later approved the resolution by a majority vote.

Rowe stated that the ACDP felt that, while the district would eventually require the building of new schools, this year’s bond initiative was badly timed. “Not here, not now, and not in this way is what we’re trying to say,” Rowe said. “We think it was rushed.”

The same could be said of an ACDP resolution that included numerous factual errors. In fact, when confronted with those errors by SUN staff during a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, Rowe acquiesced, conceding that certain passages could have used more editing and that others were based on secondhand information the party had not bothered to fact check.

At other times, Rowe stuck by contentions made in the resolution without further comment or explanation.

“(A)fter repeated pleading from the public to be given an opportunity to speak or ask questions about the bond proposal,” one section read, “the school board relented just twice ... and only after the board had already voted to place the bond question on the ballot ... “

In fact, the district first suggested pursuing a bond initiative in early February and discussed various aspects of the issue during subsequent board meetings, offering numerous opportunities for public input since then. Furthermore, The SUN reported on numerous occasions the location and times of those meetings.

When asked about that statement in the resolution, Rowe replied, “Well, that’s just what a number of people had said to me.”

When confronted on a statement in the resolution that read (in part), “(T)he school board and administration have not followed the typical sequence of first seeking grant funds from other sources before turning to the taxpayers for funds, as neighboring school districts have done,” Rowe responded, “We hadn’t heard that brought up in any of the meetings.”

However, the board had discussed the pursuit of various funding opportunities to offset the expense of the project at numerous meetings this year. As reported in the Sept. 1 edition of The SUN, BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) funding had been discussed several times as an option. That article also reported BEST funding dollars can only be pursued once a match is reasonably assured, i.e. through a successful bond initiative.

Rowe acknowledged the facts reported in that article but stated that the ACDP resolution had been drafted following the Sept. 1 publication date (but five days prior to the release of the resolution).

Rowe also said, “I meant to take that out,” regarding a statement in the resolution that read, “(T)he school board decided in December, 2010 to spend $300,000 for 53 rocky, sloping acres ...”

In the end, out of 12 points raised in the ACDP resolution, seven of the resolution’s “Whereas” statements either included factual errors or assumed conclusions based on incomplete data.

According to Rod Profitt, secretary of the ACDP, Rowe told him that the resolution had been approved by the ACDP’s executive committee through an “e-mail poll,” but that he, as a member of the executive committee, had not been contacted. Profitt added that Rowe told him that she felt the poll was “good enough” to proceed with the release of the ACDP’s resolution.

On Tuesday afternoon, district superintendent Mark DeVoti responded to the resolution saying, “I find it unusual that they (the ACDP) would issue a resolution without first coming to me to offer an opportunity to respond.”

On Thursday, SUN staff learned that DeVoti had been invited to speak to the ACDP’s executive directors at their Sept. 27 meeting.

It may be at that meeting that the ACDP will decide if Tuesday’s resolution was warranted and the ACDP’s stance sound regarding the district’s bond initiative.

jim@pagosasun.com

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