Letters to the Editor

March 17, 2009

No arts school cash will come from special ed funds

To the editor:

No matter which side one takes in the debate started by Mr. Janus ("Other schools will suffer from BISFA finance moves), the School for the Arts will open in the fall with over 150 talented and excited Washington County students. It is unfortunate Mr. Janus cannot see beyond his personal bias regarding this wonderful opportunity for our children. Based on his positions during the primary campaign, Mr. Janus not only does not support BISFA, but also is opposed to almost any program that supplements the educational experience. It is his belief that schools should laser focus on math and reading using the Montessori model. While our schools place their major emphasis on the core academic subjects, what a tragedy it would be if our children missed out on art, music and athletics.

There are, in my opinion, many misrepresentations made by Mr. Janus regarding BISFA, most of which were addressed by Mr. Wright's rebuttal. There are however, several statements I would like to address. In regard to changing the Master Plan, it should be noted that the Plan is a fluid document which is reviewed and updated on a yearly basis as required by code. This is also true for the CIP or Capital Improvement Plan.


Depending on funding or other unexpected factors, items in the CIP can rise or fall dramatically. For example, a boiler failing in a newer school may require money that would not be budgeted in the CIP for 5 or 10 years out.

Such was the case with BISFA. The School for the Arts appeared initially in the CIP more as concept than a real project; however, when the downtown building was donated, the Board decided to move the project up the list. This is not unprecedented. Prior to my tenure on the Board a decision was made to move Pangborn School ahead of other projects when the opportunity and potential funding became available to do so. It was, I believe, the right decision.

With BISFA, funding from standard sources was not available. The Board with the help of the BOCC, decided to pursue alternative private funding. This funding requires a payment of $633,500 per year, but it should be noted that this lease is a capital lease. At the end of the lease term, the Board will own the building, a valuable property in the Arts and Entertainment district. Everyone knows any new construction costs money. What the BOE has done is purchase specialized space which is no more expensive per student that any other new construction. The Board is paying the cost of capital as part of the lease payment. This cost is a routine part of the debt service which is normally paid by the Commissioners when they borrow for school construction.

While Janus is correct that the lease payment is coming from the operating budget for BISFA, Mr. Wright is also correct in stating that money is not being diverted from Special Education. The statement is not only inflammatory; it is a disservice to a reasonable debate. It would be irresponsible and a dereliction of duty for the Board and this system to in any way ignore our special needs students when a huge portion of our funding is determined by student performance indicators that include the same special needs children. Mr. Wright accurately points out that our budget line item amounts will change based on the needs for a given year.

After all, budgets are mere estimates that need to be periodically reforecast to reflect current year realities. BISFA does not change this process. There were increased operating costs this year that needed to be addressed when we opened three new schools. Lines in the budget changed as money was redeployed to those schools. BISFA is no different. While operating costs do go up when a new facility is opened, they are also lowered for the schools impacted by reduced numbers. Mr. Janus is further incorrect in his assertion that the money used for the operation of BISFA could be used on Hancock's roof or Doub's boiler. These projects are capital projects and normally come from the capital budget not the operating budget.

After coaching for nearly 30 years, I have managed to build up a reasonably thick skin. Comments about me personally are typically ignored. Those about friends and family will usually garner a response. Such is the case here. While I appreciate Mr. Janus' belief in my dictatorial powers, I must defend my "loyal puppets." His notion that I can manipulate this Board into a "party line" is an insult to the independence and intellect of my colleagues. These individuals are hard working, intelligent, well read, independent thinkers who are fully capable of formulating decisions without my help.

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