Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Who decides? (part two)

In my previous post, I wrote about how a large bureaucratic institution is a force of its own and naturally wants to run itself. The job of the elected board is to ensure that the decisions belong ultimately to the larger community, not just to the institution itself.

Here’s another recent anecdote. Two meetings ago, the administration presented the board with a schematic design proposal for the renovation of Lincoln School. The renovation itself had already been incorporated into the district’s facilities plan; we were at the step of the process where the board approves preliminary floor plans and preliminary budget projections.

Our facilities director put on an extensive presentation of the proposed schematic design, noting at the end, “Currently, this is over budget.”

“How far over budget?” two board members asked simultaneously.

“I would say as much as thirty or forty percent,” the facilities director said.

This, unsurprisingly, caused some concern among the board members. (Listen to board member Lori Roetlin’s concerns here.) But the board decided to approve the schematic design on the understanding that we would still have to consider, at one of the next steps, whether we were comfortable with a project that would be that far over the initial budget. The facilities director reassured us that there were two more approval steps before the design itself would be final.

Yet the following week, as we were discussing the same step of the planned Mann renovation, the facilities director raised the concern that rejecting the schematic design could end up causing a delay in the completion date. Was that true of the Lincoln project, too, I asked? The facilities director replied that going back for a new schematic design could risk a delay.

In sum: The administration presented the board with a proposal that was 30 to 40% over budget, and then explained that if the board didn’t approve it, the project could be delayed. If the board approves the proposal in those circumstances, who really decided the issue?

Part three here.


Chris said...

Just to spell out the concern about being over budget: Where would the money come from? In particular, board member Lori Roetlin expressed her concern that projects toward the end of the bond plan—some of which she thought should have been scheduled sooner, such as projects at Tate, Alexander, and Kirkwood—would be at risk if we went over budget on projects at the beginning. “I’m very very concerned that where this is going to lead to is no money for the end,” she said.

Our administrators reassured us that they would not use bond money at the expense of other projects in the bond, but there was no obvious alternative funding source other than unexpected savings or efficiencies. And Lincoln is one of the first projects in the plan, so we could be in the position of going forward on faith that those efficiencies would eventually appear. And if we really believed that there would be money available outside the bond, why didn’t we reduce the total borrowing we asked the voters to approve?

Anonymous said...

At this point I am convinced this administration deliberately presents things last minute, stating urgency OR ELSE.

Then the board approves because of the "or else" being a terrible thing.

Penn: or else there will be a large space unusable anyways because we already started without telling you

Lincoln: approve this because two more steps anyways so no harm to approve this now and we can figure out cost issue later

Mann: approve this now or else risk a delay to the entire project (even though last meeting we reassured you changes could still be made to reduce price tag or we would find some money laying around somewhere).

amy said...

It's obvious what the plan is. The plan is to max whatever the underwriters say we have for borrowing capacity.

I think my new, top of the list question for board candidates is "Will you fire Murley?" No? Want to keep him? Not voting for you.