Opinion: Letter to the Editor: School Projects Out of Control

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: School Projects Out of Control

Citizens, the City Council has approved a budget of $761.1 million to manage our city’s financial needs for fiscal 2020. The School Board will receive $311 million — a 41 percent share of this budget in order to manage our school system. Under the existing charter the school board can spend this money in any way it chooses — with absolutely no supervision and no accountability. In fact, City Manager Mark B. Jinks has stated that it is “illegal” to change the allocation of funds, as the School Board has the right to allocate the funds in any manner it sees fit — a rather scary scenario. The point of this letter is to show how intimidating and restrictive this charter is, as it has no checks and balances and to demonstrate how poorly the School Board has been in managing these funds.

The School Board’s past projects reveal a grim reality that many public projects in Alexandria are nowhere near their proposed budget amount. Concerning the school projects T.C. Williams High school — budgeted at $90 million was finalized at $125 million — 38 percent over budget— the Charles Houston Rec Center renovation initially budgeted at $4 million — the final price was $15 million when the center reopened — a 375 percent increase over budget. Jefferson Houston, another cost overrun budgeted at $36 million, the final cost was $44 million — a 23 percent miss. Finally, our new Patrick Henry School budgeted at $38 million for the school and $6 million for the recreation center — a total of $44 million budgeted — is now a $62.8 million school — 30 percent over budget — $52 million for the school and $10.8 million for the recreation center.

We have eight other schools to renovate and rebuild. This budget-busting modus operandi needs to be fixed. The reality is that the School Board, City Council and Mr. Jinks have no idea how to bring a project under budget. We do not need a Taj Mahal — just a school brick and block — no exquisite finishes. If the city and School Board are so inept that they cannot provide a school under budget — look to a public private partnership — give them a dollar number and they will meet it .Years of deferred capital improvements and increases in school enrollment as well as a mismanagement of funds has left the city in a desperate situation. It is absolutely beyond belief that the City of Alexandria cannot land a school project on budget and on time.

Bill Goff