Cape Girardeau School Board member opposing bond issue
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Paul Nenninger, a Cape Girardeau School Board member facing re-election, opposes the $40 million bond issue that he, along with the other six board members, voted to put on the April 6 ballot.
In his responses to a Southeast Missourian questionnaire, Nenninger said the bond issue fails to distinguish between what the district needs and things that are desirable but not vital.
"As written, the bond issue is a pork barrel with something for everyone," he said.
Other school officials say the timing is good to do the bond issue now while interest rates are low. They say the district could save millions of dollars by doing the projects now instead of taking an incremental approach.
The opposition is a surprise, said board president Kyle McDonald. "I am discouraged that a board member would come out and publicly be against something that is a board decision. That is directly against what we are taught as board officials."
A public meeting to discuss the bond will be held at 6:30 p.m. today at Cape Girardeau Central High School, 1000 S. Silver Springs Road. District officials will explain the bond issue in depth.
The bond issue will, if passed, pay for 16 new classrooms at the high school, long-deferred repairs and upgraded mechanical systems at five schools. In addition, the district will replace Franklin Elementary School and build a new football stadium and auditorium at the high school.
The bond issue will not require a tax increase.
Before the board's decision to put the bond issue on the ballot, Nenninger raised objections to the facilities plan it is designed to implement. After the board approved the plan on a 4-3 vote, it voted unanimously to put the bond issue before voters.
The vote did not mean he supported the bond issue, Nenninger said in an interview. "I wasn't persuasive" in opposing the facilities plan, he said. "I saw no reason not to give it to the voters and say, 'You guys decide.'"
Asked why he waited to declare his opposition -- he and other candidates appeared at a forum last week where his election foes said they favored the bonds -- Nenninger said he was not asked a direct question.
"If they had asked the appropriate question, I would have responded there," Nenninger said.
'A political ploy'
McDonald, however, questioned the timing.
"When you see things pop up like this, it is a political ploy to get attention for yourself," McDonald said.
Nenninger's stance fits with his objections to the facilities plan, board member Steve Trautwein said. "It will be unfortunate for the school district if some voters are persuaded to vote against the bond issue after reading his comments."
Nenninger, a retired U.S. Secret Service agent, faces Don Call, a semiretired education administrator, Philip S. Moore, a banker, and Hamner Hill, a professor at Southeast Missouri State University in the election.
In their responses to the candidate questionnaire, Call and Moore both supported the bond issue. They said it will relieve the operating budget of burdens for building repairs.
In addition, Moore noted historically low interest rates and contractors willing to work on a smaller profit margin to obtain work in a tough economy.
"We need to do it now while we can get the most for our money," Moore wrote.
Hill has not responded to the questionnaire but endorsed passage of the bond issue at the voter forum.
When asked which items are "pork barrel," Nenninger named the stadium, auditorium and library reconstruction at the junior high school. A better plan would have been to concentrate on the district's most important repair and efficiency projects with a smaller bond issue, he said,
Nenninger is also worried that the new facilities will impose costs on the district at a time when state revenue shortfalls cuts could force budget cuts.
An analysis of the added costs and expected savings showed an increase in spending of $28,500. The district's budget is about $42.9 million. But unknowns about state funding make the bond issue a questionable decision, Nenninger said.
"When you have unknowns and variables and you paint yourself in the corner of promising to bring all this stuff online at the same time, you could have a serious financial burden and could be forced go to voters and say we need more money on the operating side," he said.
Adam Kidd, who is leading the Yes Cape Schools campaign to pass the bond issue, said in a written response to Nenninger that he, too, would oppose the bond issue if he were convinced the projects weren't needed. But he sees the program as a long-term investment in the district. Low interest rates and lower construction costs make the program even more attractive, Kidd said.
"If we wait, these same projects will cost millions of dollars more and we as a community will have lost the opportunity to continue to invest as others in the region are doing," he said. "Our kids will suffer, and our community will suffer."
In addition to money saved on interest and low-cost construction, McDonald noted that the projects will provide 200 to 400 construction jobs. A defeat at the polls that can be tied to Nenninger's opposition could strain relations on the board if Nenninger is re-elected, McDonald said.
"When he comes out and does this, I lose a little respect for him," he said.
301 N. Clark Ave., Cape Girardeau, MO
1000 S. Silver Springs Road, Cape Girardeau, MO