Batavia School District Spin

The Batavia School District has put out an informational video through BATV on the $15 million referendum. If you view it critically, you will find some interesting details (or lack thereof).

Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Dave Andrews starts by claiming the $75 million referendum passed in 2007 for the Batavia Fine Arts Center “as well as other academic space” have resulted in a loss of 2 practice fields. What he carefully omits is that “gi-normous” fieldhouse that he waves his hand over. That fieldhouse was constructed with the $75 million referendum bonds that weren’t supposed to raise our taxes…until they did. That fieldhouse was supposed to solve a lot of the school district’s practice needs. Just look at the newspaper reports surrounding its opening:

They knew they were eliminating 2 outdoor fields when they built the fieldhouse and BFAC. Back then it was clearly acceptable to have some teams and marching band practice off-campus. Why the change now?

In the video, school board president Cathy Dremel says they are getting conflicting information regarding the “pace” of the “capital projects plan”. First, she is not speaking of the capital projects like roofs and boilers; she is speaking of the athletic fields. Then she neglects to mention the real, significant, “conflicting information” from the many in the community who have contacted the school board and spoken at numerous school board meetings, who think the athletic fields redevelopment is an improper use of tax dollars for non-educational, extracurricular activities.

The school board’s concern for community input only runs so deep. If they really cared about community input, and wanted clear direction from those who would be forced to pay for it, it would have been a 2-part advisory referendum, and it would concern solely the athletic fields:

  1. Should the Batavia School District proceed with the $15 million* Athletics Field Redevelopment Plan as approved in July 2013, including two artificial turf fields?  ___Yes ___No
  2. Shall Batavia Community Unit School District…be authorized to issue $15,000,000 general obligation alternate bonds…for the improvement of the athletic fields at Batavia High School….?  ___Yes ___No

*What started out as a $13.4 million Plan has risen to $15 million, as the estimated cost of a new maintenance building doubled by the time a lease was signed.

Ms. Dremel also presents the 2 artificial turf fields and all other component of the Athletics Field Redevelopment Plan as a foregone conclusion–that it WILL be done, it’s just a matter of time and whether we taxpayers want it now or later. That’s not necessarily true. The citizens of Batavia could elect new school board members who would revoke the adopted athletics field plan.

The real “facts” are that the ordinary capital projects like roofs and boilers can be paid for reasonably by the current budget of $1.5 million/yr. It is the “low priority” athletic fields component that necessitates this referendum. Mixing artificial turf with furnaces and ventilation units obscures the real reason for the desire to borrow money.

No matter how anyone tries to spin it, the money for these bonds will come from taxpayers’ pockets. Dr. Monn chooses his words carefully in the video, saying alternate revenue bonds “are debt that are repaid from existing operating revenues and they do not raise taxes”. He points to the existing budget for capital projects ($1.5 million), and the debt payment ($1.2 million) to be taken from that budget. But as posted previously at the website, that does not leave enough money to cover the district’s other capital project needs. If you listen carefully, Dr. Monn then hedges with, “If additional funds are needed beyond our budget of $1.5 million, the Board of Education can vote to increase this allocation at any time.”

Where is that additional money to come from? At Tuesday night’s public informational meeting, they said it could be transferred from other funds, like the Education Fund. But then an audience member pointed out that that would take money from the classrooms. They tried to say there was other money in other places, including reserves, from which the money could be moved. “To which,” as the Daily Herald reported, “audience member Sylvia Keppel, a critic of the district’s spending, said, ‘If there’s so much money lying around, why not give it back to the taxpayers?'”

In the end, it all comes from our taxes. And if there’s not enough money floating around in the budget currently, and there’s not enough as they raise our taxes by the maximum allowed by law every year as they are wont to do, then they can raise our taxes directly without limit, as the referendum states, to pay the bonds while the money in the budget pays for broken boilers. Following the 2007 referendum, they used this same strategy. They shifted money between funds, until there was no more money to shift. Then our taxes went up 11%. It happened before, it can happen again. Voter beware.

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