By Thomas R. Harley
INDIANA — Regarding the story “School board president: ‘Misinformation’ spurs opposition” published Feb. 15 in The HawkEye, Indiana school board president Doug Steve is the source of most of the misinformation that surrounds this project. In this one article he makes three misstatements of the facts.
First: There is certainly no evidence that the majority of business people support his $32 million plan. And I suspect the teachers will be less than enthusiastic about the project should it cause an increase in class size, a decrease in support staff or a negative impact on their wages.
Second: The governor’s 2017-18 budget is $2 billion out of balance, yet only carries about $29 million for PlanCon reimbursement for the entire state. We may be in line, but it is a very long line, and we have not even finished the paperwork.
The board recently submitted PlanCon document Part E. Three more parts are required to be completed and accepted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education prior to qualifying for reimbursement. The potential PlanCon reimbursement is so far down the road that we have to borrow $5 million and hope that Harrisburg somehow finds the funding to follow through. Note that the PlanCon money for the junior-high project was just received by the district, a decade late.
Third: Mr. Steve said “he expected the school board to solicit bids for the project around mid-March.” There is not a single permit obtained out of the more than a half dozen required. The board recently voted not to sign any contracts or borrow any additional funds until all the permits are in hand and the PDE has cleared the project.
Finally, PDE will not allow any contracts to be executed prior to Part H being approved by the state. Maybe he meant contracts would be signed by mid-March 2018.
In one of his Mr. Steve’s early president’s addresses he states that the project will cost $20 million. The mega-school will now cost more than $32 million. In another, Mr. Steve stated that there were only 13 more elementary students attending Indiana Area School District in October than we had in June. At the very same meeting the board was forced to hire four elementary-school teachers to serve the 90 additional kids that actually did show up.
WHAT REALLY ALARMS ME is this whistling-in-the-dark attitude about the budget. IASD is in financial trouble even without the mega-school project. Currently, the Indiana Area School District has a reserve of almost $6 million. If taxes are not raised, if state and federal funding is level, and if teachers’ salaries are unchanged, IASD would chew through the reserve by 2021 (in only four years). If you add the financial burden of the mega-school project, the district cannot raise taxes fast enough to stem off this looming financial disaster.
By doubling our debt, the mega-school project will only accelerate this financial Armageddon. This board will have to raise taxes every year by the 3 percent index to avert this financial meltdown and force future boards to do the same with no end in sight. Teaching positions will be eliminated, programs decimated and our kids will suffer.
This is not the district that I envision for Indiana.
Thomas R. Harley, an Indiana architect, is former president of the Indiana Area School District board of directors.