The actual quote is, “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about some real money.”

It has been attributed to the late Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois, but when asked about it, he told a reporter that he said “a billion here, a billion there,” but never uttered the second half.

From Wikipedia: “Oh, I never said that. A newspaper fella misquoted me once, and I thought it sounded so good that I never bothered to deny it.”

Still, the “here and there” applies to the N-MUSD. And now, there’s a whopper of real money to discuss.

The topic of the secret special school board club meeting at 8 a.m. on Jan. 11 was the Estancia pool: Open it or keep it closed, and what to do about the fact that the bids for the new pool complex were $3 million over what the district had budgeted.

Clearly, this secret special meeting should have been folded into a regular school board meeting so that more members of the community could attend and weigh in, but this was too hot a potato for that. Better to hold the meeting while any taxpayers in attendance are still half asleep.

We were told at that meeting that there was “wonderful news” about the pool budget. Yay! We were told that one of the two consultants hired to sort out the mess the N-MUSD bureaucrats created had reported that the pool project can be completed for about $7 million with the same scope, but a new design.

That was, in fact, wonderful news. So what has happened since? Here’s what, from the just released agenda for the meeting next Tuesday:

16.a. Approve Financing and Procurement Plans for the Estancia High School Pool and Aquatic Center Improvements 

And here is the full, exact wording from the “Financial Impact” section:

“The project is currently budgeted in the Special Reserve Fund for Capital Outlay Projects. It is recommended that the budget be increased from $7,000,000 to $9,000,000.”

And here is the rest of the agenda entry:

On January 11, 2018, the Board of Education directed staff to develop a strategy to procure the full scope of the EHS pool and aquatic center in one project to begin as soon as possible. The Board of Education expressed interest and questions regarding options for financing and procuring the project and directed staff to prepare recommendations for the Board of Education’s consideration and approval.

Current Consideration:
District staff, Cumming Corporation, its cost management consultant for the EHS pool project, and construction legal counsel, John Dacey, of Bergman Dacey Goldsmith, PLC, will present their updated budget recommendation and rationale for procuring the project via the design/build delivery method. Staff will also outline the overall project plan and the next steps to be taken upon Board of Education approval of this recommendation.

What’s a couple mill between friends, eh?

Huh? What? Wait… Weren’t we told that there was “wonderful news” and that the pool could be completed for $7 million? Yes, we were: I was there.

But now the project has ballooned to $9 million with no explanation or apology. Is this wrong? If you live and work in the real world, yes, it is wrong. But if you work for the N-MUSD either as one of the highly paid bureaucrats or as part of their addiction to the countless highly paid consultants they hire, no it’s not wrong – it’s business as usual.

So what happened? Why aren’t taxpayers getting the pool for $7 million? We don’t know because they’re not telling and they are note telling because they don’t want us to know. If they wanted us to know, they would have included a rationale for the cost overrun in the “Background” section of agenda item. But adding that would have meant that they screwed up. Again.

Instead, someone is going to have to drag it out of them. Instead of the superintendent or any of the seven trustees owning this mess and just saying “we goofed and here’s what has happened since Jan. 11,” they are quietly spending $2 million more of your hard-earned tax dollars as though it grows on a tree in the backyard.

Oh, and this: This $2 million agenda item – the one that will be rubber stamped as nearly all other votes are? It’s positioned next to last on the agenda which means there is a greater chance that few members of the public will be around to witness their incompetency.

So, let’s recap:

  1. Bid requests for the new pool go out.
  2. $7 million is budgeted.
  3. Pool is drained and closed, ending all water sports at the school and wasting at least 75,000 gallons of precious water, even though no bids had been received.
  4. Bid are received and found to be $3 million over what the highly-paid bureaucrats had budgeted.
  5. Administration and school board realize they goofed – royally – and vote to spend $100,000 of your tax dollars to re-open the pool.
  6. Public is told at the secret special meeting that $7 million was sufficient for the new pool complex.
  7. Public learns from a buried agenda item that $7 million is not enough and that $2 million more is needed.
  8. Neither the superintendent nor the school board club accepts any responsibility for any of this or offers an apology to the aquatics teams for wrecking their season.

So which is it: $7 million? $9 million? Or $10 million? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess and I certainly have no faith whatsoever that the superintendent or any trustee knows what the hell is going on with the pool.

Symptoms vs. problems

Do the Estancia kids deserve the best pool we can afford? Of course. My son played polo at Estancia and my late wife and I sat through many games wondering why these great kids had to play this exciting sport in such shabby conditions.

But while the Estancia athletes deserve a great pool, taxpayers deserve some fiscal responsibility over this mess. These are not mutually exclusive concepts, it’s just that neither the superintendent nor the board has any idea how to get a handle on both of them at one time.

At the Jan. 11 meeting, Trustee Martha Fluor said that she is concerned about the level of transparency, that she is “irate,” and that the mistake [closing the pool] was “unacceptable.” The she took it one giant step further and said that the board was told one thing about the pool but now they are learning otherwise. “There is a lack of trust in our own experts. It boggles the mind,” she said. Then she said, “I am very, very angry over this $100,000 mistake.”

Yes, the kids deserve a better pool. It should have been done a long time ago but unfortunately, they had to wait behind spending for more bureaucrats and for a secret $34,450 bonus for the superintendent.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: The pool is not the problem, it is a symptom. The problem is that the current school board club is reckless and irresponsible and far too trusting of the superintendent and his overpaid administration.

And that readers, in a nutshell, is why we need new trustees this year.

“There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time as come.” – Victor Hugo

Steve Smith
Taxpayer, N-MUSD