By Rachel Atwood
The Park Hill District Council PTA sponsored a forum for school board candidates on March 29. More than 50 people and all eleven candidates attended the event.
There was no shortage of disagreement between Fred Sanchez, who is running for a one-year term, and three-year term seeker, Chris Seufert. The candidates have sparred over issues recently, mainly centering around a decision by the school board to approve an environmentally friendly geothermal heat pump.
Costing approximately $500,000, the expenditure is part of the budget to build a new elementary school if the $49 million bond issue passes on the April 5 ballot. The controversial heat pump raised eyebrows due to the 25 year estimated payback period which was approved by the board of education in February.
Current school board member, Fred Sanchez, defended the board’s decision at the Tuesday night forum explaining that the engineers and architects had recently reduced the projected payback period to just 10-12 years. “The return on investment is there,” he said.
Seufert challenged the decision to approve the heat pump due to the low rate of return. He then questioned Sanchez’s statement that the estimated payback had been reduced to 10-12 years and referred to a discussion with Assistant Superintendent for Business and Technology, Dr. Paul Kelly, who, he says, told him they were now estimating a 13-14 year investment.
“Those numbers, being all over the place, give me a lot of pause. It makes me wonder if we can trust any of those numbers,” Seufert said. Candidate, Timothy Thompson who has previously vocalized his opposition to the heat pump, also questioned the half million dollar expenditure.
Michael Atchison, who is running for a three year term, disagreed with Seufert’s analysis of the of the cost to benefit ratio and said that the pump would save money in the long term.
Other decisions by the board were challenged by Seufert who says if he was elected, he would ask more questions. He pointed to a $15,000 expenditure for signage and maps for the new school and asked how that benefited the students. “Mr. Sanchez thinks $15,000 is chump change because it is borrowed money.”
Several candidates voiced concern over a 2009-2010 Park Hill district report, which indicated a drop in graduation rates. The study found that 1.8 percent of students did not graduate in 2006, rising to 2.6 last year.
Atchison argued that the numbers were skewed due to changes in defining drop-outs. He said that the recent figures do not take into account students who take an extra year to graduate or who finish at alternative schools.
The candidates were asked their stance on the bond issue and the panel unanimously agreed to support the ballot measure. David Cox, who is running for a one year term, said he was in favor of the initiative but questioned the cost, “I don’t know if we need 49 million dollars, but we do need a good chunk of that.”
The school board election will take place on Tuesday, April 5. Todd Burr, David A. Cox, and Fred Sanchez are running for one seat on a one year term. (Victor McCance has dropped out of the race)
Three seats are also open for a three year term with eight people running: Michael Atchison, Josh Blackman, Janice Bolin, Pauli Kendrick, Boon Lee, Chris Seufert, Timothy Thompson, and Rick Turley.