Saturday, February 7, 2009

$36,000 to fix a $59 problem

Pop quiz time: How much does it cost to clear the ice from the sidewalk outside the high school's "Alternative Learning Center (aka S.O.A.R. building, old old Junior High school)after a late December storm?

Answer: $36,000 per year.

Kinda makes NASA and their $500 hammers sound like a good deal, doesn't it?

As always, there's a lot more to this picture than meets the eye. It all started with preparations for the Jan 26, 2009 meeting of the school board's Finance committee.

Citizen representative Rick Mealy (and possibly others on the committee) submitted a request for more information to Business Services Manager Rhonda Page for more information on check # 91714. The information available at the time was:

Check # 91714
Payable to: Treasurer, City of Sun Prairie
Date: 1/8/09
Amount: $58.60
Description: BG (Buildings & Grounds) Sidewalk Citation

Fast forward to the committee meeting. When asked to explain this "ticket", Phil Frei's initial response was, "Yeah...I'm really kind of surprised that the City would have issued this ticket".
Whoa....hold on there! Yes, we have a "partnership" with the City to share some costs and equipment, but isn't the safety of our kids and other district residents of paramount importance?

Upon further questioning regarding how such a thing could have happened ("It was over the holidays...", "...we didn't have staff...") Mr. Frei then told us that the ALC/SOAR building (previously) did not have a custodian. So they subsequently hired one. This appeared in the January 12th Personnel report to the school board:

Title: Lead Day Building Custodian (if there wasn't one to begin with and we didn't hite TWO, who exactly are they "leading"?)
Former Incumbent: New (that means we never had a custodian there previously)
Base Salary: $17.11/hr ($35,600/yr)

We know. Oh...we know....this raises SO many questions doesn't it? Like:

  • How did we clear snow and ice from previous storms?
  • Do we need a full-time custodian just to clear the snow and ice?
  • And if we needed a custodian for more than just snow and ice removal...why didn't we have a custodian for this building up till now?
  • Does this lend any credence to talk that the ALC is considered a red-headed stepchild of the district? ....which would be absolutely shameful to say the least
  • Who was responsible for this task during all those storms earlier in December?
  • Is asking why the City would have cited the District an appropriate response? gets better! The interesting thing about citations is that you can't name an "entity" like the Sun Prairie Areas School District". They have to name an individual. So...who should be named? You're thinking back to that meeting this fall when Dr., Culver announced, "I am accountable for what goes on in this District", right? You're thinking that the ticket was issued to Tim Culver, aren't you? Wrong! (annoying buzzer sound). Take a look at the copy of the citation. Who got tossed in front of the bus this time: none other than Buildings & Grounds Manager, Tom Brooks. Thanks for taking one for the team, Tom! [SP-EYE: this DOES seem to happen quite a bit, doesn't it? Chad Wiedmeyer took one for the science classroom issue last fall, Gwen King took one for the yellow card fiasco, and now Mr. Brooks takes one for the sidewalk. Who's really accountable here? With all these district employee-bus collisions, shouldn't the DOT be investigating the need for a traffic light?]

And let's not blame the city for this. The assistant city Building/Plumbing Inspector should be absolved of any "blame" here. He was doing his job. The ALC is located in a high traffic area, and we all know that there was a lot of ice around. We HAVE to be concerned about the safety of our kids and area residents. And, when you ask the right questions of the right people, you learn that the city gave the District quite a bit of grace in getting the situation dealt with. The last snowfall was December 28, 2008.

The district was alerted on Friday Jan. 2. The district was informed that this was a "Severe Hazard" situation , which means that they had 2 hours to remedy the problem. Monday, Jan. 5 was the first day. Note the date of the picture at right. The city inspector returned to the scene not on Monday, but on Tuesday Jan. 6. to snap this picture as documentation that NOTHING had changed! Then the ticket wasn't even written up until January 8!

No one was available to resolve this? That's not typically the case. In fact, we received an e-mail regarding another situation where a custodian went out of his way and came in on his own time to make sure walkways were safe.
" I know my custodian came in on his own time Sunday and salted
just to break up what he could because he cares so much, but even that only had
a small effect on the ice. The entire city and community are dealing with very icy conditions and we are trying to do everything we can to keep everyone safe..." did this happen? How did we have NO custodian at the ALC? Don't those kids (and staff) deserve one? Several years back, the ALC housed only a handful of kids, but now the numbers are typically in the 70-80 range of students, and the program has a dedicated principal. This may be an "Alternative" Learning Center...but custodial activities should not have had to be dealt with by "alternative" means.

[SP-EYE: Yes, we realize that things like a $59 citation mean nothing to a $65M operating budget, but they DO add up. And in this case, it actually added $36,000 per year to taxpayer costs. We're not saying that hiring a custodian wasn't necessary. We're just wondering: How were these responsibilities dealt with since the beginning of school, and why WASN't there a custodian to begin with? We're just sayin'....]