Analysis: News-Leader Letter To The Editor – Fred Ellison (12-10-2016)

The Springfield R-12 school board wants you to jump on board the $375 million Bond Express to modernize Springfield Public Schools facilities and implement 21st century educational methods.

Before we get on the train and make a huge, long-term financial commitment to this grandiose plan, let’s examine some of the reasons given that we should support this plan:

1) We are told that many of our school buildings are in terrible condition and adversely affecting student success. The school board has hired a group of experts for several hundred thousand dollars to evaluate all the buildings. They have assigned an “Educational Suitability Score” to each campus which compares to their concept of the “ideal” facility, although we don’t really know what that facility looks like or have proof that it will improve student success. A relevant question for administrators and the board is “Why have you failed in your fiduciary responsibility to maintain and upgrade the buildings on a year-to-year and ongoing basis?”

2) We are told that the debt service levy for Springfield R-12 of 55 cents is the lowest of any school district in the entire area. However, the reason for this is the fact that the assessed valuation of real property in the Springfield R-12 District is from 5 to 10 times greater than the other districts. In actuality, the debt service revenue per student is nearly $800/year and this is the fourth highest amount in the entire area. Don’t buy into the guilt trip that we are being stingy with our funding of the district. The operating expenditure for each R-12 student is $9,296/year and of that, $5,888/year comes from local taxpayers. Both of these amounts are the highest of any district in southwest Missouri.

3) School administrators and the board would like you to believe that the reason for poor student test scores is caused by the condition of the school buildings and that test scores will automatically improve if some buildings are abandoned in favor of relocated and combined campuses for elementary and middle schools. However, what district officials are not telling you is that test scores from the last several years on a yearly basis comparing math and language arts scores between renovated, reorganized campuses and older “unsuitable” facilities, do NOT support this assumption. In fact, test scores at Sherwood and Westport (new/renovated/reorganized) are lower than similar schools in their areas. As the old saying goes, “the proof is in the pudding.”

There are several problems with this huge bond proposal which in effect will put all our eggs in one basket. The taxpayers of Springfield R-12 will be paying principal and interest on the $375 million in bonds long after the “new” technology and methodologies have been surpassed or abandoned. If the anticipated benefits of this huge expenditure are not realized, we will be so financially over-committed that we will be locked into a plan that is not working and our children will be paying the price.
Failure on such a grand scale by the largest public school district in Missouri will provide proponents of privatization and school choice vouchers the perfect reason to advance their proposals. We should not allow Springfield Public Schools to gamble the future of our public schools and our children on a single, huge $375 million plan that is not a sure bet.