In recent weeks there has been a firestorm of controversy about the $12 million capital improvement funds that the school district has available and has voted to finally use instead of allowing it to gather dust. The money will finally benefit our students and our community, and improve the health and safety of our citizens, help bring some of our facilities into compliance with state and federal regulations. Who am I? I have been to a LOT of school board meetings over the past 8 years, I am the parent of a middle school student, I have asked a lot of questions of a lot of people, and read as much as I can stomach. Here’s the deal, there is a whole wagon-load of misinformation and partial information about the capital improvement money and the projects voted on by the school board members. Here’s my version of a Fact Checker. I’ll do the best I can with the information I have:
QUESTION: What are capital improvements and why can’t they be used for classes or teachers?
ANSWER: Capital Improvements are by definition (to the extent there is a clear one) large in size, expensive, non-recurring and permanent. They are projects that make a property more valuable or enhances its useful life. Repairing a roof is not a capital improvement, replacing one is.
Capital Improvement funds cannot be used for maintenance such as repairing leaky roofs, plumbing or termite control. That money comes out of the maintenance budget. There is a separate fund for that and money designated for another fund cannot be commingled or in simple language used for that. If money is taken from one designated fund to pay for something else there is legal hell to pay and the school district could be subject to sanctions.
Capital Improvements (“CI”) are adding elevators, replacing grand stands, renovating the interior of a building to provide acoustic and lighting improvements, replacing a playing field, replacing auditorium seats, improving sound in an auditorium, adding solar. That sort of thing.
CI does not apply to fixing plumbing, fixing leaking roofs, termite or pest control. Nor can CI be used for teachers salaries, text books etc.
For reference check out the link below or do your own Google search for “Capital Improvement definition California” and see what it says: http://biztaxlaw.about.com/od/glossaryc/g/capitalimprove.htm
CLAIM: One school board member controls the capital improvement funds.
FACT: Not true. The school board needs a majority of members to do anything. That’s at least 3 out of the 5 agreeing. The four capital improvement projects chosen by the School Board were chosen with a 5-0 vote. In other words, ALL of the school board members voted for these four projects. No school board member can do anything on their own which commits the district to spending money or anything else.
CLAIM: The four capital improvement projects were chosen in secret with no transparency to the public.
FACT: Not true. If you actually go to school board meetings or read through the minutes you will see that the four projects chosen: elevators at the MS and HS, solar panels, athletic field upgrades and the Robert Frost Auditorium have been put on the agenda and discussed numerous times over the years. Sometimes there are people in the audience, and sometimes there are not. If we want to be an informed electorate, then we have to inform ourselves.
QUESTION: What are the 4 capital improvement projects that the school board voted to pursue?
Elevators, solar, athletic field, Robert Frost.
Remember, capital improvement funds can only be used for big, one time expenditures such as replacing a roof but not repairing it, significantly renovating a property not fixing up the cosmetics, and bringing major projects into Americans with Disability Act compliance. The money cannot be spent on teachers, class materials, maintenance, or staff.
QUESTION: Why elevators?
Elevators: The Middle School and the High School each have a two story building with classes upstairs. Access is by (often crowded) staircase only. Any person who has a mobility disability would find it impossible or have a very hard time attending those upstairs classes. Why should any student be denied a chance to be taught by our fine teachers? The Americans with Disability Act (“ADA”) requires that buildings be made accessible to people with disabilities. There are no elevators and they must be put in. The board set aside $2 million, later reduced to $1 million out of the approx. $12 million that sits unused in its capital improvement fund.
CLAIM: Solar panels are being pushed aside in favor of the other projects
FACT: False The board voted at one of the recent meetings to spend $20,000 to secure a place in line for solar energy rebates from the state. Between $4 to $4.5 has been allocated for a solar project. Solar is actually the only project that is actively being pursued at this time. The project has the potential of saving the district a lot of money on its electric bills and with the rebates, those savings will increase the amount of money in the general fund which can be used for teacher salaries, books, staff positions etc.
A number of people have been working very hard, none harder that Todd Johnson who has supplied intricately detailed reports and calculations to the board. The board has a lot of information to go through and at lot of hoops at the state level that have to be negotiated correctly to ensure that the solar project comes through on its promise of energy savings and additional monies into the general fund. These things take time if they are to be done correctly.
CLAIM: The upgrades for the athletic field secretly ballooned from $1.5 million field replacement to an athletic complex costing $8 from the capital improvement fund.
FACT: Mostly False
Athletic Field Upgrades: Try walking across the athletic field a few times and you will find that it is hard, has holes and basically is an accident waiting to happen. The MS and HS PE and athletic classes, as well as after school classes and teams, and non-school organizations use the fields every day. The health and safety of our students demand that the field be fixed/replaced. After looking at real vs. artificial alternatives the board decided to go with a synthetic field which had an estimated cost of $1.5 million. As with all building projects at public schools the plans had to be sent to the state architect for approval. The state said, if you upgrade the field you have to make sure it is surrounded by ADA compliant structures. These include the bleachers, bathrooms, and snack bar. That cost “ballooned” to $3 to $4.5 million which would come out of the capital improvement funds. Then, the state informed the district that there is modernization grant money available. This money comes with strings attached. It is given on a 60/40% basis. The district pays 60% and the state supplies the last 40%. This grant would give the district an additional $3-4 million to be used for the athletic facilities only IF the $3-4.5 million for the field and ADA compliant structures is spent. In other words, if the district spends the money on the athletic facilities, the state grants us more money.
Therefore, the $1.5 million turf replacement became a total of $3 to $4 million for the field and ADA compliance = $4.5 from the capital funds.
IF the $4.5 million is allocated, there is a state grant of around $4 million available, making the total amount proposed for the athletic field upgrades is around $8.5 million, of which around $4.5 comes from the CI funds. NOT the entire amount which is one of the allegations floating around. I probably have the math wrong, but the numbers have not been solidified yet.
CLAIM: The $8.5 million athletic facility comes out of the $12 million capital improvement fund making the board choose athletics instead of solar, elevators or Robert Frost.
FACT: False. See above.
QUESTION: Why Robert Frost and why hasn’t the community been consulted?
Superintendent Jaffe held a public meeting about Frost on Monday, October 24, from 5-6:30 pm in the District Office Board Room on Irving Place. However, it is a bit early to ask the community. Shouldn’t the teachers and staff of the AVPA, the teachers and staff of the MS and HS, and the principals of the elementary schools who are interested in using Frost be consulted first and a wish list of what is needed be put together before the community is consulted?
Why Frost?: The seats are dilapidated, the acoustics and lighting belong to the last millennium, it needs to be air conditioned and heated, the stage needs work, various parts need to be ADA compliant. Rumor has it that the electrical in the building is desperately in need of being upgraded and being made compliant with today’s safety standards. The board earmarked $2 million. The next step is to get a wish list of what needs to be done, calculate costs, put together an architectural and engineering plan, ask for community input, get state approval then fix the darn thing!
CLAIM: Capital improvement money should be spent on the Natatorium (i.e. on campus swimming complex)
FACT: There are a lot more pressing projects that directly impact the health and safety of the students, and it would cost money the district does not have in the long run for maintenance.
The Natatorium, heck I didn’t even know that word existed before I heard it at a board meeting some 6 years ago. It is the large building between Farragut and the Middle School, right in front of the large parking lot. It was a place where many CC residents learned to swim and in days of yore teams practiced. I hear it had two pools. HOWEVER, it was shut about 20 years ago and will cost millions to replace piping, replace and update pool filtering and filling machinery, acres of pipes and drains, re-surface the pool and other building necessities to bring it up to operational status. Even if the money was spent on fixing it up, just try to calculate the cost of pool maintenance, pool chemicals and filter equipment, lighting costs, and on-going plumbing maintenance that the district would have to pay out every single year. What about safety and insurance issues, life guards etc.? Lease it out for scuba or a swimming lessons….I thought it was supposed to be a place for the students to swim and exercise. How can the water polo team get in their practice if it is rented out? Can the woman’s soccer coach condition her students there? Not if some other company is using it as a money making venture. Anyway, what guarantees are there that leasing it out will provide enough revenue to run the pool? What if the company leaves or goes elsewhere? How does the district pay the bills.
QUESTION: Why not just change the natatorium into a theater or hall?
ANSWER: As with many things, it ain’t that simple.
Every election cycle and just out of the blue the natatorium issue comes up. Do you really think that the school board and the district likes having a large dilapidated building that is currently being used to store broken furniture and unused items? The pigeons use it a lot more for their own purposes. There have been many proposals put before the board from outside swim teams and swimming schools, but historically none were deemed sufficient. If a company today came forward with a good solid proposal that would cover the maintenance and running of the pool AND the cost of refurbishing the building was reasonable, you can bet the Board would consider it. However, it might cost at a minimum of $250,000 a year for water, chemicals, insurance, staffing etc. That CANNOT come out of capital improvement money and the district certainly can’t take on that obligation. The funding for care and maintenance has to be rock solid and from somewhere else.
As to re-purposing it as a theater or performing arts space. It is an old concrete building. It would most likely have to be torn down and completely replaced or very extensively modified. It was built for the pools folks, not classrooms or theater space. Where is the money to do that? Would Sony like to fund the Culver City Performing Arts Center? They haven’t offered yet. It sounds like a good idea but where is the funding?
So why not ditch one of the capital improvement projects (elevators, solar, athletic field, Robert Frost)?
Because those projects will have a direct and present impact on our students addressing health and safety needs, ADA requirements, and a potential funding stream. Those projects are getting more and more ready to go, why waste precious time focusing on fixing or redoing the natatorium? That can wait. It has sat relatively unnoticed for 20 years folks, it is not going anywhere.
In closing, there is a lot that we parents and community members do not understand about issues that are brought up, especially at election time. Take a moment and educate yourself so that you can understand and evaluate what candidates and people supporting those candidates say. Ask yourself when a candidate or a community member speaks about something–do they have the basic facts and are they using them correctly.
I apologize for the long letter, but I am tired of the confusion and am offering this as a way of understanding what is going on.
Remember to vote in the school board election on November 8.