Additional information was added at the end of this blog.
The immortal words of the fictional Colonel Sherman Tecumseh Potter came to mind after reading that the Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce president told business people attending the recent First Friday Coffee that they should view the upcoming local school bond proposition as a whole and not to vote against it "because there is a piece of it you don't like."
Horse hockey, I thought.
While the leadership of the local Chamber of Commerce may believe that in the case of this bond issue the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I cannot.
There is no way I am or can vote for this bond issue.
That's not to say this bond issue is completely unmeritorious. There are some aspects of it that I could vote for.
But there are other parts of this bond issue that smack of the same pork-barrel politics that reign supreme in Washington, D.C. I get the impression that since this bond issue will not raise the property tax rate the district decided to go for broke and ask for every item on its Christmas wish list.
Want a pony? Why stop at one. Let's get a whole herd!
There are four parts of this bond issue that I take exception to: replacing Franklin Elementary, the football stadium, the auditorium and adding on classrooms to the reputedly Too-Small-High-School.
Franklin Elementary School
Why does the district even need to replace Franklin School, the smallest school in terms of students in the district? Why is the district proposing to spend ten million dollars replacing it with a two-story structure -- that's $3 million more than the cost of an equivalent-sized single-level elementary school -- just so they can stay on the same parcel of land at the corner of Louisiana and Themis?
It's not like the district hasn't gotten rid of older schools before. Washington, May Greene and Schultz have all been deemed obsolete in recent years and sold off. Why not do the same to Franklin?
Franklin occupies the smallest tract of land owned by the district at 6 acres. Wouldn't it make better fiscal sense to enlarge the other existing schools that are located on considerably larger lots ranging from Jefferson at 10 acres to Blanchard at about 20 and divide Franklin's students amongst them?
But of course, there is a stigma with sending students to certain public elementary schools in town. To paraphrase George Orwell, all elementary schools in Cape Girardeau are equal, but some elementary schools are more equal than others.
And if Franklin were shut down, those students would likely be divided between the two less desirable elementary schools, Jefferson and Blanchard. I guess we can't have that, now can we?
The Football Stadium
And then there is the case of the football stadium, and yes, Virginia, it is a football stadium.
The bond issue supporters can try to call this an "all purpose events stadium," but that doesn't fool anyone. You don't need to spend nearly three million dollars on bleachers and infrastructure for track and field events. Not to disrespect those sports, but a truck load of folding chairs would be sufficient for all the spectators at your average track meet.
Do I think it is weird that a school the size of Cape Central does not have its own football stadium and instead has rented the University's facility for decades?
It is the damnedest thing I've ever seen. I was raised in a town of 3,500 that had both a public and parochial high school. Combined they would have been two-thirds the size of Cape Central yet each of them had nice football stadiums due in large part to the respective school's football boosters.
But I don't see how a football stadium is even remotely necessary to the education of our youth or why the taxpayers should have to pay for it. What's next? Shall the taxpayers chip in and pay for prom as well? Limos and tux rental aren't cheap, you know.
If an extra-curricular stadium is that important, why doesn't the district's Foundation work on a fund drive in conjunction with the boosters to get private money to finish what has already been started? There have to be at least a couple thousand Central High alumni who once played football still alive. If the experience was so important, they should be happy to contribute the $3 million needed to outfit the facility.
The "All School" Auditorium
The "all school auditorium" as it has been described in the pro-bond issue campaign literature is much like the football stadium.
Its use is primarily for extra-curricular activities. When the auditorium was built at what is now the Junior High School in 1955, it could -- and presumably still does -- seat 1005. At that time the average class size at Central was less than 200 so everyone in the high school as well as the faculty could be in the auditorium at the same time with room to spare.
However, the "all school auditorium" being proposed at the new high school is reportedly only going to seat 750. That's about 425 short of the school's current student population.
What am I missing? Is attendance that pathetic at Cape Central that an auditorium 36% smaller than the current student population is adequate to conduct "all school" events? If it is, the district has more important things to worry about than what to build next.
Or shall I put on my calendar to expect another bond issue in five or six years when the district realizes that it must add-on a desperately needed new "all school" auditorium that has the capacity to fit 100% of seven-eighths of the students attending Central High?
I just don't see the need for two large theatres in the district. It would be like having two stadiums. Theatres are huge spaces that are expensive to heat and cool and are only minimally used. Cape Central conducts two plays a year. Wouldn't it make more fiscal sense to continue using the existing auditorium at the Junior High for these productions?
Or if it is in need of a facelift, surely that can be done for far less money than the $7.2 million projected for adding one on to the Too-Small-High-School
I'm particularly perplexed and peeved by the school district's "need" for 16 classrooms for the seven-year-old high school. Exactly where are the students that justify this need?
The Cape Girardeau Board of Education conducted a study of the district's facilities in 1992. At that point, the population for a four-grade high school in Cape Girardeau was 1285.
Flash forward 17 years to September 2009 when the school released its Master Plan.
It reported the enrollment for the high school to be 1176, an 8.5% decrease since 1992. Yet during that 17 years a brand-new high school was built that was somehow "too small." How could that be? Did the district administration at the time it was built trade educational necessities for extra-curricular luxuries?
And apparently, the Too-Small-High-School was not too small by a just a little. I think most people would consider 16 classrooms to be too small by a lot -- if that is actually the case.
But according to the district's own Master Plan, a senior high school should have between 160 and 200 square feet of space per student. Right now, the average square footage based on the number of students attending Central High School is 175.
So we're well within the square footage range as defined by the district's Master Plan and the CGPS student population does not appear to be growing and has actually shrunk. For further proof look at the U.S. Census data. It shows that the school age population in the city of Cape Girardeau actually decreased between 1980 and 2008 by 6%.
Yet, the school district tells us they don't have enough space and needs to add over 100,000 square feet of floor space to the entire district -- plus rebuild Franklin almost completely.
I ask again, where are the students to justify this need?
It has been said that this bond proposal is a "quality of life issue."
Perhaps, for those who have children either in or planning to go in the Cape Girardeau public school system it is. If I were a direct stakeholder with children attending the local public schools, I would be a huge booster. Who wouldn't want to see their kid go to a good school with great facilities and have all your neighbors help pay for it? That's a heck of a deal.
But for those of us without children or whose children are not going to public school, this is a bottom line issue. Yes, I know this bond issue is not going to change my property tax rate and if the bond issue fails, neither my taxes nor my tax rate are going to go down. I get that.
However, I like to see my tax-dollars spent prudently, and I believe that too much of this bond issue shows no signs of fiscal restraint during a time when our state government is trying to figure out how to cut a half-billion dollars from its already lean budget.
This bond issue really boils down to perceived educational needs, wants and projected needs.
Since I feel a majority of this bond issue to be wants rather than educational needs or projected needs, I will be voting "No" on April 6.
This portion was added Wednesday afternoon.
Here is some further information that I've collected on this issue that didn't make the original final edit of this blog, but I felt are worth sharing.
According to the Career and Technology Center, an average of 260 students from Cape Central attend the CTC thus further lightening the student load on the high school. They don't attend the CTC all day, but in 3 hour blocks.
In addition, the CTC apparently has enough spare classrooms that they can lease them to the community college initiative. One would think that if the space issue was so dire that the high school would have already been using those classrooms.