When is a $45 million project not a project? When SCSD#2 spins it

We had hoped the hearing before 4th Judicial District Court Judge William Edelman last week would have revealed more on the school district’s thinking when they held closed meetings to discuss a proposed $45 million multipurpose recreation facility. We were disappointed.

Sheridan County School District 2 attorney Kendal Hoopes simply reiterated the district administration’s same tired explanations, which contradict each other and have little to do with the law.

Hoopes argued that the project wasn’t really a project. After all, he said, no formal votes had been taken on it and it had never reached a point where any specific recommendations were made on whether to pursue it.

Yet, SCSD2 has spent more than $17,000 on consultant reports that included architectural estimates, a market study on whether the community could support such a facility, and even proposed plans to pitch a multi-million bond issue to the community to pay for it all. In addition, The Sheridan Press obtained emails exchanged between SCSD2 Superintendent Craig Dougherty and Sheridan College President Paul Young, in which Dougherty said the district had planned to pursue the bond issue in spring of this year. We wonder how a bond issue could be considered if a project did not exist?

In addition, Hoopes restated the district’s position that discussions of the project fell under the real estate exemption provided for in law. This argument fails on two fronts. First, in order to talk about real estate for a project, you must first talk about what the project would entail. This was never done in a public meeting of the board. Second, if the project had really been planned for several years out as described by district administrators, then the discussion of real estate purchases would have no value because the purchase price – that many years away — could not have been predicted.

Finally, Hoopes tried a new angle. He said that the non-existent project had actually been discussed in great detail in public meetings. In fact, he said, a public hearing was held on it.

The Press reviewed two years of meeting minutes from the school district and could find no such discussion. The document Hoopes was referring to, though, was the district’s broad facilities plan, which contains no specific references to a $45 million multipurpose rec center, that according to one consultant, could operate at an annual deficit predicted at between $700,000 to more $1.7 million.

Administrators have said the high school is in need of more locker room space, more space for indoor practices and an expanded auditorium to allow for more arts education. But no specific solution to those issues was proposed in the facilities plan. When The Press asked for a copy of the facilities plan submitted this year, the district provided a summary, but not the entire document, a public record. The entire document, they said, was long and the completed plan couldn’t be provided because much of it is submitted online through the Wyoming School Facilities Commission website. Does their computer not have a print function from the Internet? Most do.

After some of the initial court filings, SCSD2 had battened down the hatches — restricting The Sheridan Press access to staff and information, despite stating they wouldn’t do that. Recently, they’ve returned to prior practices, allowing staff to participate in interviews with Press staff and providing information when it is requested. We continue to hope they will admit to violating the state’s open meetings law, but we’re not optimistic.

 


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