Maintenance I: What Went Wrong?

Susan Troller’s maintenance article describes a pretty serious failure in communications between the MMSD administration, on the one hand,  and the Board and larger community, on the other. 

It wasn’t unreasonable for folks to think that the list of needed maintenance projects that was circulated prior to the 2005 maintenance referendum vote listed the projects that would in fact be funded if the referendum passed.  That turned out not to be an accurate assumption.  As the district’s recently-departed building services director Doug Pearson wrote in an email last October to Erik Kass, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, the pre-referendum list included “estimates for deferred maintenance projects.  The list of actual funded projects was, and always has been for ten years, adjusted prior to the bidding cycle each year, and bids went to the BOE for approval.  Some projects were added and some were dropped depending on emergency repairs, and the actual bid amounts.” 

Bids for maintenance projects do regularly come before the Board for approval.  What was missing was anything like annual or semi-annual updates, ideally presented around the time that bidding lists were being prepared, that would give the Board an overview of how the maintenance money was being spent – why some projects were being added and why some projects like tuck-pointing and lights at Huegel, never seemed to make it to the top of the list.  If these types of presentations had been made, Board members could have asked questions and perhaps advocated for projects that they felt strongly about (which may have been a reason why the past administration did not appear to have been eager for Board input.)

The Board is not without fault on this.  I don’t know what was said back in 2005 to generate support for the maintenance referendum.  It could be that Board members and others touted the referendum by stating that it would allow the district to get to some important maintenance work that is typically deferred in favor of emergency repairs, like for example, oh, let’s say tuck-pointing.  If that was the case, perhaps Board members should have insisted on semi-annual Board presentations on where matters stood on the maintenance projects so that they could assure themselves that their earlier pledges were being honored.   A failure of communications can be a two-way street.

It seems to me that the documentation shortcomings described in the article are an outgrowth of this larger failure of communications.   I assume that there are adequate records somewhere for the various projects that were funded through the maintenance referendum.  That is, if one wanted the detail on a particular roofing job, the appropriate documentation could eventually be produced.  It apparently isn’t organized in a way that facilitates overall review, perhaps because overall review by the Board was not something that those responsible for the projects were particularly interested in.  This certainly needs to change.  I don’t have any reason to think that it won’t.

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