Adam Bertrand speaking at board meeting

Hey Ma! I’m famous!

Last night I was fortunate to speak at the special board meeting in regards to the increasing cost of Francis Howell North. During the meeting, District representatives gave some presentations and responses to the Board. The District also had a “hotline” where you could submit your questions and they would be addressed (maybe) on a webpage at a later date.

Questions that I submitted:

  • Why were inflation adjustments not factored into estimates for projects with multi-year timeframes?
  • What is the appropriate maintenance budget to keep our building functional over longer time frames?
  • What is the impact for not expanding elementary capacity, and how do demographic projections over the next few years affect this?
  • Does delaying Prop S maintenance projects put us at risk of other future excess maintenance expenses?
  • Why did we not utilize intensive financial monitoring when utilizing the CMAR (Construction Manager at Risk) process?
  • Why do we not require, per policy/contract, a minimum of 3 bids? — I think every company I’ve worked for had this kind of policy or finance wouldn’t even look at your project.
  • Are patrons being blamed for referencing a district document that the district failed to keep updated? What else are we expected to use?
  • How are we changing policies or processes to prevent similar issues in the future?
  • How long until we reach the ‘critical path’ when having no package 5 approval would cause delays?
  • Has SM Wilson provided their estimates for ‘Zero Bid’ items, along with how these estimates were determined?

Some of my thoughts I shared over Twitter:

  • Did @MikeHoehn_FHBOE suggest we ignore cost of @HowellNorthFHSD because @FHVikings came in under budget in 2008? You manage projects at the time and in times of uncertainty should have closely monitored all Prop S costs. @FrancisHowell
  • So @SMWilsonCo can put any random place holder and give it to @FrancisHowell and call it a Guaranteed Max Price…we then hope they come in under…sounds like we have no control and they have no incentive.
  • Is anyone else understanding the CMAR is just a design-build in phases? Sounds like a ‘lean’ construction method to reduce time not to manage risk to a cost capped project. Great for commercial work that losses money everyday not being used, not for schools. @FrancisHowell
  • Do we think @FrancisHowell will make policy and process changes to prevent similar issues in the future?
  • Sounds like the @FrancisHowell goal is to hope and pray for continued low interest rates in order to take on more debt without taxes…maybe we should just save money? Thoughts?

I apologize for the “embedded” video – it appears that FHSD has locked it down so we are unable to properly post it, but you can click on it and head on over to youtube to watch it – I speak at the 5 minute mark. Below is a full copy of my speech.

Twenty years ago my wife and I were students in the district and now we have four children in the district.  My parents are in the district, my in-laws are in the district, and my brother-in-law is in the district with two future Howell North students.  I stand before you to express the concern, dismay, and utter disappointment we are all feeling at how the board, and Central Office, have managed and communicated Prop S.

We watched as the board appeared shocked to hear about the increased costs of Francis Howell North.  However, the board had already approved 4 out of 5 packages for construction, as well as numerous other Prop S Bids, some at significantly higher premiums. 

Using available district data, it is easy to determine that we have been running over the estimates.  But all items were still approved, with little to no questions or discussion among the board.  Trade-offs should have been decided months ago, when we had more options.

We heard how SM Wilson had been working with the district to find cost savings but had failed to publicly present costs until this point in the project, and it appeared the board knew nothing of these conversations.  While, at the October board meeting additional insurance was approved, the attached September memo stating the need as, ‘to cover the full amount of anticipated construction cost’.

Currently, 45 of the 62 items within the Bid Package have 2 or less bids, 19 have only 1 bid, and 10 items have no bids at all, zero, none.  At what point do you think, Hold Up, Wait a Minute, Something Just ain’t right.   I question if the world has completely run out of expansion joints, signage, toilet accessories, fire extinguisher cabinets, loading dock equipment, and fencing. 

We are well into the process of this build, but Package 5 should be temporarily paused.  While current work continues, SM Wilson should personally reach out to contractors for any items under 3 bids or significantly out of line with estimates, bringing this information before the board with a revised GMP.

As a family in the district, it feels like our trust has been taken advantage of, or everyone has been asleep at the wheel — when this happens people get hurt. 

Taxpayers get hurt as more revenue is requested to make up for the mismanagement and are scorned for ‘not supporting teachers or students’.  Teachers get hurt if used to justify another year without a pay increase.  Students get hurt as we lose teachers. But most importantly, the quality of education is compromised.

The purpose of the district is to educate our children, to build their knowledge base, instill good work ethic, and develop their full potential.  This requires great teachers and a physically safe, conducive learning environment.  

The Board must step up and do what you were voted in to do – oversee the district to the best of your ability, thru open transparent discussion, and represent the taxpayers of the district.

Thank you.