Volusia County Schools: How’s that whole ‘secrecy’ thing working out?

In the Barker household – borrowing money is a Big Deal.

See, my family has a finite stash of “fun tickets,” and once it’s gone – it’s gone.

Even though we are a typical two-income household, given my abhorrent habits, most economists would group my monthly expenditures on the “feasible – not optimal” side of the budgetary slope. . .

Like many in Volusia County, we simply don’t have the luxury of accelerating “nice to have” purchases by borrowing against future income – because we understand that, given the myriad variables, over time that can lead to insolvency.

As a municipal retiree, it boils down to the simple realization that, at the end of the month, if I’ve overextended the family budget in one area or another (normally a line item loosely labeled “Mark’s Entertainment”), there will be a few lean days ahead until the Eagle shits and the cycle repeats. . .

For “big ticket” items, we do something novel in today’s free-wheeling world of personal finance – rather than incur debt, we save money until we have enough to make the purchase.

Weird, right?

Unless you’re a senior insurance executive, own a motorsports dynasty, develop Halifax area real estate or hold a management position in local government – I suspect your family’s finances are much like mine.

(Trust me – if I had J. Hyatt money, I’d put mine in a little pile and burn it. . .)

I guess that’s why whenever I read a headline that screams, Insert government agency here borrows a Gazillion dollars!) it bothers me.

Maybe it’s because you and I are forced to live within our means?

Here in the Real World, even minor deviations can have catastrophic consequences for those who live on a fixed income or eke out a living in this struggling artificial economy.

You see, we don’t have the ability to demand that our neighbors subsidize our lavish lifestyle and spending habits – or to borrow astronomical amounts of money – paid for with millions in interest – safe in the knowledge that the faceless masses will ultimately pay for it through increased taxes.

It’s like walking a tightrope – only you and I don’t have the luxury of a net.

I love it when those we elect to represent our interests crow, ad nauseum, about how borrowing against future earnings is a good thing – and the financial advisers and economists who are paid by the very entity they are “advising” always seem to rubber stamp these massive borrowing schemes regardless of cost.

Whatever.

Recently, the Volusia County School Board announced that it was bonding a whopping $100 million, ostensibly to accelerate construction and renovation at several area schools.

Of course, the money to repay the loan – and the estimated $6 million in interest – will come from the half-cent sales tax increase that you and I approved in 2001 – then extended in 2014.

The bond comes on the heels of an ugly debacle involving the sale of other district assets to the Town of Pierson.

After a tangled process (if you can even call it a “process”) the Volusia County School Board recently approved the sale of land and buildings on the former Pierson Elementary School site to the small community for use as a civic complex.

For many, the “deal” initially came as a complete surprise. . .

Fortunately, freshman Board member Ruben Colon fought for transparency back in April when he demanded that two items – one of which declared some five-acres of the property surplus – the other approved the purchase agreement with Pierson – be pulled from the School Board’s consent agenda. . .

When the mechanics of the deal came to light, in May, former School Board member Dr. John Hill sounded the klaxon on social media:

“Just like in the past, this was attempting to be done without any property appraisal and only one or two personnel from the school district arranging this deal.”

It was eerily reminiscent of a bizarre backroom deal with AdventHealth – a weird scheme that traded incredibly lucrative advertising rights (read: exclusive marketing access to some 63,000 families and an untold number of teachers and staff) for just $1 million in “in kind” services and $200,000 annually over five-years – a “deal” that blindsided Volusia County taxpayers after months of “secret” negotiations with district staff. . .

Jesus.

When Mr. Colon pulled the covert deal with Pierson off the agenda for further study, he said, “We are entrusted with the management of taxpayer funds.  This is not a responsibility I take lightly.”

In typical fashion, at the time, Saralee Morrissey, the district’s director of planning, quibbled the facts of the transaction – explaining that the $3.77 million just or “market value” set by the Volusia Property Appraisers Office was “not a reasonable value” due to the deplorable condition of the buildings.

At the end of the day, the School Board approved the sale of 5.5 acres and structures to the Town of Pierson for just $73,000.

Again.  Whatever.

Look, nobody involved in this mess – including those of us who pay the bills and suffer in silence – begrudge the Town of Pierson this important community asset.  But the way the transaction was handled by district administrators was slimy, arrogant and opaque – and it served to cement the public’s inherent distrust of Volusia County government agencies.

Given the fact that, just a year ago, district officials were making the rounds crying the poor-mouth blues – begging spare change from the municipalities to fund basic security measures to protect our vulnerable children, teachers and staff – perhaps the district’s recent move to borrow $100 million to expedite new school construction is a good thing?

I don’t know.

But unless and until the Volusia County School Board sets about purging entrenched bureaucrats and administrators who continue to operate in the shadows, outside any politically accountable oversight – their long-suffering constituents will remain skeptical of anything coming out of DeLand.

For an agency with a budget approaching $900 million – secrecy is unacceptable.

Join Barker’s View this afternoon on Gov Stuff Live! with Big John beginning at 4:00pm!

Tune in locally at 1380am “The Cat” – or online at http://www.govstuff.org (Listen Live button).

We’ll be taking your calls and talking about the important issues of the day that impact our lives and livelihoods here on Florida’s Fun Coast!

 

2 thoughts on “Volusia County Schools: How’s that whole ‘secrecy’ thing working out?

  1. I will be pursuing this legally since the three board members who voted for this didn’t represent our money appropriately!

    Like

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