Facts on the LPOSD Facilities Planning Committee
Railroading of LPOSD Taxpayers
by Anita Perry
As we get ready to vote on the $55 million Lake Pend Oreille School District facilities levy next week, here is some information about the Facilities Planning Committee which helped to push it through.
Selection of members to serve on the committee, it was recently revealed by its chair, Kendon Perry, “intentionally” excluded the public because it would have been “chaos”, as he described it. So only individuals with connections to LPOSD, Panhandle Alliance for Education, and/or Citizens for Better Schools were chosen by Superintendent Woodward. Their assignment was to evaluate the consultants’ facilities review (which was also conducted without public knowledge) and to make a recommendation to the school board.
At a January 2016 school board meeting the public learned the identity of the committee members. The committee chair gave a presentation which endorsed the consultants’ findings that 7 out of 11 school buildings were in “unsatisfactory” or “poor” condition. It did not endorse the consultants’ findings that schools were under-utilized, some of them substantially, and it disagreed that enrollment was projected to decline. So only the consultants’ findings that fit a narrative conducive to a levy proposal were endorsed.
Of the two worst-rated schools – Sandpoint Middle School and Lake Pend Oreille (alternative) high school – the committee recommended rebuilding the Middle School but not LPOHS. It did, however, move lower-priority Northside Elementary and the main building at Washington Elementary to high-priority rebuilding status without much explanation.
The committee chair also advocated for “maintaining dollars for special projects as they see fit”. This of course leaves a lot of leeway for spending without accountability.
The committee’s recommendations were accepted by the school board, culminating in a unanimous vote for a $55 million facilities levy at a May board meeting.
So what were the backgrounds of the 13 committee members described by the Superintendent as a “broad-based group of community members” who wielded their influence on the school board?
- The LPOSD Superintendent, also serving as board member of the Panhandle Alliance for Education (PAFE). For years PAFE’s office has been the location of Citizens for Better Schools, a group whose stated mission is to help pass school levies and bonds. Its pro-levy signs are all over town at every levy election.
- The Committee Chair, who is a financial advisor, Farm Bureau insurance agent, and prior school board candidate whose profile shows him in favor of school levies. Of note, one of his main campaign issues was the improvement of LPOSD school facilities: “The condition and capacity of our facilities is unacceptable and we have not invested in our facilities … “. He recently described himself as a contributor to Citizens for Better Schools.
- A former LPOSD school board member, co-founder and current board member of PAFE. As then-school board vice chair she interviewed and approved the hiring of the current superintendent who recalls that “literally the first thing that was asked of me behind closed doors during the interview” was “how confident I would be, as superintendent, running a levy campaign”. Apparently he answered to their satisfaction.
- The LPOSD Facilities Director.
- The LPOSD Facilities Director’s mother, the former mayor of Sandpoint.
- The LPOSD Chief Financial Officer.
- The LPOSD Director of Technology.
- Two LPOSD school board members.
- A LPOSD teacher.
- Two parents of LPOSD students, both outspoken supporters of school levies.
- The owner and president of a local construction company, whose wife was a recent school board candidate.
Only one of the committee members had a background in construction; another had a background in architecture, and he also happened to hold a seat on the school board.
Speaking of the two school board members on the committee, the conflict of interest of them voting to approve their own recommendations apparently escaped the Superintendent and everyone on the committee. Interestingly, both of them resigned within a month of voting for it. (A third has voiced her intent to resign. Are board members jumping ship?)
This committee was a LPOSD-driven levy-railroading team, not a group on which we, the taxpayers, could depend to be impartial and give expert consideration of a school construction project so large that no one can remember anything of its scope in North Idaho, and which will take $55 million out of property and business owners’ income for the next six years.
[Editorial correction to place in proper category]