Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Voices of Franklin - Bill Glynn - Misinformation Campaign Manipulates Senior Citizens

The FHS vote is a rare situation when self-interest (to maintain lowest possible taxes) aligns with the community’s interest (to tend to the community’s needs). The high school problems are well documented: the entire facility must be made accessible to those with disabilities and the failing infrastructure must be upgraded to make the building safe and bring it up to code (these two issues alone will cost tens of millions of dollars in renovations). Franklin must decide either to pay $47M of the $104M cost to build a new school or 100% of the $86+M cost to renovate the existing school. The new school option is the taxpayers’ cheapest option and provides the best outcome. Since a “do nothing keep all my money” option doesn’t exist, a “NO” vote will cost Franklin $86+M instead of the $47M cost of a “YES” vote. It should be an easy decision.

Back when the current high school was built, there was no proposition 2.5, so the community probably looked at multiple options when deciding to build the current school – just like the building committee did during this analysis. There may have been a high-end option as well as a low-end option and perhaps middle of the road options too. The point is, the decision had to be analyzed and folks had to choose between competing goals such as: lowest-cost, best-value, maximum-benefit, etc. My guess is that their decision was more heavily-weighted toward the lowest-cost end of the spectrum. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have a school with all of the facilities embedded in concrete walls (a cheap way to build, but extremely expensive to renovate and upgrade) and we would have a handicapped-accessible school with elevators. These two items in particular answer the question posed by some, “how come Tri-County is OK?” The answer is directly linked to what was bought: Franklin didn’t buy a Mercedes or a Toyota Camry and so the end result was a school with a relatively short lifespan that was not designed to be upgradable.

In the current situation, the state (MSBA) decided between the options first and determined which option (if any) it would choose to fund. First, the MSBA funds school projects on the basis of need; the higher the need, the closer to the top of the list you get. So, unless you’re thinking that the state just has more money than it knows what to do with, you have to agree that FHS must have some level of need in order to be near the top of the list. The state chose the model school option because the costs are very deterministic (the model has been built several times so cost overruns are minimized) and the state wasn’t looking for the lowest-cost option (renovation was about 85% of the cost of a new model school). Rather, the state was looking more along the lines of value for the money being spent – in other words, a higher return on their investment because they don’t want us coming back in 15 years. That’s why we’re able to have the option to get a new model school for less money (shared cost) than a renovation (we pay the full cost because the state won’t throw good money after bad).

So, if there is clearly a need to fix issues at the high school and that need is so great that the cost is roughly 85% of the cost to build a completely new school as well as rip down and dispose of the old school and we can get the new school by paying only 40% of the cost, then what’s the problem? While I am sensitive to the issue that there are some folks facing financial difficulty, the biggest problem is there are many more people who don’t like to deal with inconvenient data; they’d rather invent their own data and invent their own options and they believe that a “NO” vote gets them their invented option. The reality is there is no option that says ignore the situation, do nothing, spend no money and continue on as though the $1M or so and multiple years the town spent on engineers to analyze the situation never happened. Go back to sleep, it’s just a bad dream. Toward that goal, there are those who have been intentionally deceiving the Franklin taxpayer and preying upon the vulnerabilities of Franklin’s cost-sensitive senior community in particular with a disinformation campaign claiming there are no problems – just say “NO” and all will be well. If they are successful, they will have spared the Franklin taxpayers a $47M bill by convincing them to opt for an $86+M bill.

Although masterful in its execution, this disinformation campaign is repugnant by design. Is it effective? Only if you fall victim to the “all’s well” fantasy or you fail to vote and help protect yourself and the community from those who are victimized.