2016 March School Board Meeting

My prepared remarks for the March 25 School Board Meeting were these notes, scribbled on a 5×7 notecard:

Basically, Yorktown Elementary School doesn’t meet state standards now in usable lot size, playgrounds, and parking, and it will get worse; The county cut the equivalent of 80% of the new school out of the CIP, and I want to know how it will affect the schools; The new school was already delayed, already cost us in money and resources, will it be ready in FY2020?

YES does not appear to meet the state standards in at least these areas:

  • Usable area — State standards (pp. 5,8.) call for 4 acres + 1 acre per 100 students.  The lot is 14.09 acres, (per http://maps.yorkcounty.gov/York/ parcel P09d-4077-2374, see map) and its sides measure  500, 1274, 491.59, 1241.72′.  Since it has RC zoning, the usable area is the portion within the 50′ building lines, so a generous estimate would be (500-100)*(1274-100)/43560=10.78 acres, or enough for 678 students. That’s 35 less than the October enrollment.  Also, the fields are shared with the county, so even more of the area is unusable for building such things as the two re-purposed hard-surface playgrounds.
  • Hard Surface Playgrounds — Per the state standards, an elementary school should have 120×100′ hard surface play areas.  One area for 400 and less, and two for more than 400.  YES had two, but there are trailers parked on one, and there is a 60×82′ modular building slated for a big part of the other.
  • Parking — There should be 10-20% more than the parking required by the normal operations.  At 106 spaces, YES is lacking, so the no-parking signs seem to have been taken down, and people are parking in the ditch and on the bike lane.

From the budget documents, the only thing that the county cut appears to be the school’s CIP. The county cut the FY2017 CIP from 16M to 9M, and cut the FY2017-FY2022 by 21.3M.  These cuts are about 80% of the 26.5M that the new school is expected to cost.   It is a big cut and it looks like it deferred kitchen equipment upgrades, and fiber optic upgrades. (See crosswalk.)

The planning for the new school has already been delayed, and the delay already cost us $1,350,000 in trailers and a couple playgrounds.  Will the new school be finished on time?  Three years is only FY2020.

I’m looking forward to watching the video (from here?) and seeing what I actually said.

After the county supervisor meeting, the school board meeting, and what I’ve learned in communication with several administrators, I think the YCSD budget and CIP seem like perfectly reasonable tools for communicating priorities of the school district. If not, what alternative would be better?  Organizing 20+ buildings/19 schools worth of maintenance would make a big list–For instance, if you depreciated the 20+ buildings over 40 years, over the long term, you would have to do about 1/2 a building worth of maintenance each year just to keep up with the depreciation.  If you deferred some maintenance during the past recession, you’d have to catch back up in the following years.   The costs of maintaining 19 schools are relatively predictable, and are being predicted in the YCSD CIPs.

The YCSD CIP has been used for years for communicating an ordered list of maintenance projects, and I’m not sure what alternatives could be better.  I do think that the county CIP is a bit more informative, with a half-page or so of text detailing each and every line item, while the YCSD CIP only adds a paragraph of explanatory text on the changes to its line items.  Looking at the YCSD CIP documents, one would need to follow the line items backwards over several CIPS to find where the line item first makes an appearance, and then use its accompanying text.  For example “Kitchen Equipment – 5 schools” from page 5 of the FY2017 proposed CIP, is documented in the FY2012 CIP as “BMES, DES, SES, YES, & WMES  — Kitchen equipment–Movement of kitchen equipment replacement in FY16 forward and spreading it over a period of three years due to equipment deterioration.”  From the outside, this makes it difficult to drill down and see what specific line items mean, but again, this has been the practice for years. The YCSD can explain the line items individually and personally, but it takes some time and effort to work out just what a YCSD CIP line item really is.

I spoke with Dr. James and Mr. Tshirhart after the meeting and they gave me three additional documents, one highlighting the current capacities and grade-by-grade enrollment across the schools, another adding detail about the ages and conditions of the roofs and HVAC systems at the various schools, and one detailing the kitchen equipment upgrades at YES.  I’m confident that YCSD and the county have reasonable plans with reasonable supporting information for all of the items in their CIPS, but from the public information, it is very hard to drill down and understand what the items are, what hard choices are being made, and what these decisions will cost us in the future.  The cuts this year were big and will have real costs.

One clear, sad cost of past decisions is that it appears that for the next three years, temporary modular buildings will be parked on the two YES playgrounds–YES will have no standards-compliant 100×120′ hard surface playgrounds for the next three years.

What to do about it?

Past funding decisions have increased costs and caused increased shortcomings.  Past decisions to delay maintenance and school construction have increased costs and caused increased shortcomings.  At the short-term school-board level, one option for FY2017 appears to be to do significant rezoning, trading off some of the county-level standards about attendance zones for better compliance with the state standards.  Paving some of the shared county field space in “Big Green” would cost some money, but might be necessary to provide sufficient hard-surface playgrounds at YES.  At the current level of support, it does not appear possible to be able to meet both the state and the county standards at YES.

The Board shall operate the number of schools necessary to deliver the approved program of instruction to enrolled students. The requisite number of schools is a function both of total enrollment in the Division and of the geographic distribution of enrolled students. Total enrollment is an independent variable in the planning process. However, attendance patterns shall, to the maximum extent possible,
maintain an identifiable neighborhood in a single elementary school. Also, attendance patterns will, to the maximum extent possible, maintain discreet geographic areas of the County in the same secondary school attendance zone. Alternatively, the Board may direct the Division Superintendent to submit a recommendation regarding changes to the attendance zones, along with a description of feedback received through one or more public forums regarding possible changes to the attendance zones. The Board shall conduct a public hearing on the recommendation before approving any material change to attendance zone boundaries. — YCSD Policy Sec. FB
At the short term county level, it sounds like the budget is a done deal for FY2017.  From my view of the process, the funding based on recession-level spending gives me little confidence that the county is committed to supporting its 19 (or 20) schools.
Longer term, York County should support its schools to comply with state standards, its own policies, and also provide sufficient funding to offset depreciation, maintenance, or decay on its many schools and buildings.
If I’ve made any mistakes in all of this, I’d really appreciate some feedback.

One thought on “2016 March School Board Meeting

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