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The SCASD High School Bamboozle

By Don Gordon
September 16, 2016
Updated October 6, 2016
Updated November 20, 2016
This article was originally submitted to the Centre Daily Times but rejected because it
disturbs the communitys intellectual equilibrium and educational culture. It questions
the long prevailing State College Area status quo characterized, as no amount of
taxpayer money is too much to spend for education.
Updated November 20, 2016, see Centre Daily Times opinion article, Dont
Be Fooled by Mary Marino
This project has mushroomed far beyond the boards $115 million commitment
to us. A planning fallacy called strategic misrepresentation comes to mind.
Expanding the project so far beyond the $115 million promise for whatever
reason circumvents the intent of the referendum and Act 1 laws, as well as the
survey. Cavalier restructuring of debt creates high risk for future generations and
district necessities.
Dont be fooled. This is a bait-and-switch.

Update, October 6, 2016, it

looks very likely that after
allowing for 4 percent
contingencies, typical
monthly change orders (oops
we forgot to cost a critical
steel beam; oops a critical
electrical junction box..)
that the cost is now very
close to $144 million (+25
percent overrun).

The SCASD Superintendent explains that the high

school project cost is now $140 million. That is
$25 million (22 percent) over the 2014 budget and
attendant public referendum commitment. Centre
Daily Times
Superintendent ODonnell explained at a July 25
board meeting that (after four years) the high
school is still in the concept development stage.
He explained (inaccurately) referendums are only
concepts not actual plans. (ODonnell decided not
to include that dichotomy in his notes posted to the

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The school board received voter approval in 2014 for an $85 million referendum. It was
concurrent with commitment (not concept) to a $115 million total cost including $30
million from existing district funds and Act 1 tax increase limits.
The $115 million commitment (not concept) was redundant in scores of public meetings,
colorful handouts, and elaborate PowerPoint presentations. Architects Crabtree,
Rohrbaugh, & Associates endorsed the $115 million contract and budget. Now it is
called a concept to accommodate exploding costs on average of about $100,000 per
ODonnell assures no tax increase is required only new and more restructured debt.
Restructuring, will likely extend the debt period from 30 to 50 years with attendant
interest tripling the total cost to taxpayers. The base budget tax increase is already at
the maximum 2.4 percent Act 1 limit. Mistakenly, ODonnell projected only 1.9 percent
increase to sell the referendum, I opine. For this he received performance bonuses.
Despite a $25 million problem, the district approved a record setting five-year teacher
contract including mandatory pension contributions increasing to 32 percent of salary.
Likely, the final high school cost will be $145 to $150 million. I have confidence in that
number because every other number I publicly predicted is on target. I am not an
oracle, but I did watch this school board nitwittery for 30 years.
ODonnell also wants the $6.3 million allocated to charter schools operating at only 58
percent of the districts per pupil cost. He claims charter schools steal money from the
district. It is an unrequited fairy tale.
An additional $6.5 million of grants called LEEDS and state aid was requested; only
$4.25 million obtained so far. The $4.25 million should be a return to taxpayers;
instead, it will increase the cost.
The $140 million plan now invoked is the most costly of six high school options and
approved by only 9 percent of respondents during the discombobulated community
preference survey. The board ignored community input to which they committed.
I call all this a bamboozle.
Proponents of priority elementary school refurbishment promised by board resolution
(now also a concept) and charter school choice better pay close attention to
manipulation of the district master plan, funding, and disinformation by the school board.

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Warning to the Penns Valley Area School District. Reportedly, your board intends to
borrow $10 million new debt from the Royal Bank of Canada. RBC is the same bank
who, I opine, in cahoots with Public Financial Management Inc. fleeced the SCASD of
$10 million in the infamous and mindless 2011 SWAP deal. Read the relevant Wall
Street Journal article: School District, Bank in Swap Clash,
The SCASD gained national prominence for a public entity incurring a SWAP without
any debt and in conflict with Pennsylvania debt law. The SCASDs taxpayers, in 2016,
are still paying that loss of public funds with nothing to show for it. That is one
completely new elementary school that is nothing but smoke.
You will not see this in the Complacency Daily Times, School District Paying MultiMillions in Swap Deal for Non-Existent Loan.

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