As was to be expected, the audience was dominated by Guion Creek teachers, employees and district administrators. Understandably they were in favor of a new school. If I worked at Guion, heck I'd undoubtedly want to work in a new school as well. But the new school isn't just paid for by people who work or have kids in Guion. It's paid for by all the taxpayers in Pike Township.
Today, we received an education about the problems with the Guion Creek Elementary School. There was numerous comments about the leaky roof, carpet that needed to be replaced, and AC not working properly. I have absolutely no doubt that all these complaints are true. Indeed I'd be shocked if a 39 year old building didn't need its roof and AC unit replaced. Likewise, carpet has to be replaced every few years. That's ordinary maintenance. The only complaint that speaks to more significant problems is foundation issues. But even cracks in foundations of 39 year old buildings are typical. Foundation issues are dealt with by homeowners every day. They rarely require razing the house and building a new one.
What is apparent at the meeting Wednesday night is that there has been a disturbing lack of maintenance of the existing building. Anyone who owns any building knows you cannot allow a leaky roof to continue. The consequences for a building life span for a leaky roof are devastating which is why it should be repaired or replaced immediately. It is apparent though that the administration has allowed the leaky Guion Creek roof to persist for some time.
Afterwards, I suggested to one referendum supporter that the administration may have intentionally deferred maintenance on Guion Creek Elementary to be able to better argue for a new building. I expected that she would be outraged by the suggestion. I was surprised to find that she agreed the administration had done exactly that.
Some additional thoughts. Yes, the referendum is on top of the 1-2-3 tax cap. While few properties in Pike are at the cap limit, there is nothing to stop other taxing entities or even the school district from increasing their taxing so that properties hit the cap. The tax increase caused by the referendum then will go above that 1% residential cap. $237.50 on a $100,000 ($575.00 on a $200,000) assessed value home is no small tax bill. Then you start stacking that on top of the cap and the tax increase is even worse.
Regarding renovation v. building a new Guion Creek Elementary School, the fact is the School Board and administration did not do an independent evaluation of the options. Rather they let CSO Architects and an attorney from Barnes & Thornburg provide guidance on the subject. They both make a lot more money if Pike decides to build a new building versus simply renovating the old building. CSO Architects is infamous for living at the public trough, encouraging local school districts to have taxpayers pay for unnecessary school construction. Barnes & Thornburg also lives at the public trough and regularly fleeces local government units with outrageous legal bills. (Last year, the Town of Speedway was billed several hundreds of thousand dollars by B&T, so much so that each family pays an average of $90 of their property tax in one year to pay that law firm.)
Asking CSO Architects and Barnes & Thornburg for independent advice on whether you should build a new school rather than renovate is like asking a life insurance salesman to evaluate whether you need life insurance. The answer is always going to be "yes."
With all due respect to the current board members, the bottom line is we have a school board which is far to close to the administration and which did not do its duty to act as a check on that administration. The Board should be demanding independent evaluations of options and asking tough questions. Time and time again the Board has rubber stamped proposals offered by the administration even tearing down a school barely 20 years old like College Park Elementary. The Pike School Board has forgotten that they are supposed to represent ALL Pike taxpayers.