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  • Writer's pictureEmily Berry

There are facts and then there's FACT

Time for another installment of "things you might be assuming..." about our district's facilities planning, financing and taxes.

This time I want to clarify a possible misconception about the role of FACT, the Facilities Advisory Community Team. This was not a group responsible for the referendum on the ballot in April. It was not empowered to make any formal recommendations or decisions. It had a very limited role in shaping the amount of borrowing requested on our referendum, along with identifying and prioritizing the scope of the construction work proposed.

Let me be ultra clear: The district and school board were up front about the role of the group, and have consistently said the school board is leading the facilities plan. However, I realized based on an overheard comment that some people believed that FACT was an independent body that came up with the facilities plan, vetted that plan or made recommendations to the board. That's not what we did.

You can read more about the FACT on its webpage on the district website, and see pretty much everything that members saw, as far as background information and presentations from district staff. Apart from this, there was just some informal conversation. At one meeting we read through three different levels of proposed facilities work and the price tag for each, then gave feedback on what might be missing and whether we would support each option. That's about as much influence as we had.

I should also clarify that it wasn't a specially appointed or really even consistent group -- I think there were fewer than five FACT members who came to every single meeting. Again, not something I think anyone was trying to hide, but I want to make sure everyone is clear about the role FACT played, and who we were.

At our final meeting this evening, Feb. 4, the community members present ate cake with all the district administrators and were told our work as an ad-hoc committee is done, so FACT will not have any kind of role going forward in terms of oversight or recommendations to the board. Board President Paru Shah said she hoped other people in the community would see us former FACT members as sources of information. I am not sure we really are much better informed than anyone else who has been paying attention to the facilities planning process, but that is an admittedly small group. I think everyone should understand, however, that didn't have access to anything that isn't online and available to everyone in the village.

All of the above being said, I wish we did have a team of community experts who had made recommendations to the board. I would love to see a community-based advisory or oversight committee working to monitor spending and construction if the referendum passes. I think the board and the district missed an opportunity to meaningfully engage knowledgeable and engaged members of the public. Not only did they have many current and former parents present on the FACT, as you would expect, but there was at least one architect, an industrial facilities manager, several business professionals and others with finance experience who attended at least one FACT meeting. Those people asked good questions, but their expertise was left mostly on the table.

There is still time to take advantage of experts in the community who know how big multi-million dollar construction projects work, who can ask informed questions and make recommendations to district leaders, but it hasn't happened yet.

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