84 Inch TVs? BUSD Responds

On Friday, September 2, I received a phone call from Waal Elatar, the Assistant Superintendent of Business Services for Beaumont Unified. He called to tell me he had received the plans I had requested from the architectural firm that designed the Educational Support Facility. He wanted to know which of the more than 250 pages of plans I wanted. He told me he didn't have any digital versions of the plans and said they didn't usually receive AutoCAD files, computer aided drawings, of a project until the project is completed. He also told me the drawings I wrote about last week had more details than any of the new plans. He said the district didn’t have the ability to post the plans to their website but would be happy to provide me with what I needed. I will be meeting with Mr. Elatar this week to review the plans.

Mr. Elatar and I had a lengthy conversation in which he addressed some of my concerns about the plans I received earlier. He said I misunderstood the "84 inch flat screen" notation on the plans. He said the notation indicated that an outlet for a flat screen TV would be placed 84" from the floor not an 84" flat screen TV. He also said each of the five conference rooms would be constructed to support a promethean smart board but it hadn't been determined which conference rooms would be equipped with one. And, he argued that since both buildings would house a total of 120 staff he believed the two commercial size refrigerators and the large staff lounge were justified.

Mr. Elatar told me about his background as an engineer and his experience developing facility buildings for the San Bernardino schools. One of the first things he did when he assumed his new position at BUSD, was to closely review the plans of each of the district's projects. In his expert opinion, the new district office was an effective use of space and desperately needed by our district. Mr. Elatar went on to recite the arguments I've heard from the district for the last two years about how consolidating all the district's staff into a single location was practical and would lead to a reduction of the facilities portion of the general fund. He was confident there had been no attempt by the administration to conceal the details of the building and he believed the district had been very transparent in their actions.

I told Mr. Elatar that I would concede I had been incorrect in my analysis of the plans the district provided me. I believe this is one more example of the public being misled by the failure of the administration to work closely with parents and community members. I told him I didn't question the motives of the members of the administration and that I believed the problem was the culture of public school administrations, not school administrators.

I understand Mr. Elatar is new to the district so I told him this project had been handled differently than the stadium, the theater and the classroom expansion projects. I shared with him how Dr. Kayrell told us last year the design committee only included district office staff and some school board members. If the district had been more transparent, I would not have had to request the plans for myself and I might not have misread the plans and misled others. However, I’m still not convinced spending more than $12 million on a new district office right now is the right thing to do.

It is clear budget cuts by the state are going to force school boards to make difficult decisions to cut more programs, services, and to lay off staff in the near future. I told Mr. Elatar it doesn't matter if he convinces me there are no unnecessary features included in the new buildings, there will still be a lot of people with questions. I warned him unless the district gets support from the community for the buildings and addresses the public's traffic concerns there will be a lot of upset people. Parents driving by the $12.4 million facility, as they take their kids to school, will want to know why our families and our children have been asked to make so many sacrifices while the administration spends so much of our kids’ resources on such an expensive building. 

I suggested a public forum at Beaumont High School's theater. I told him if the administration would present to the community the district's justification for the project, provide a detailed look at the floor plans and open for public discussion their  traffic proposals, it would go along away to win over the public. This event would be well received and well attended if it is promoted right. When I asked Mr. Elatar if this was something he could support, he didn't say no but he didn't say yes. 

I want to thank Mrs. Lara and the other board members for helping me with my request. I also want to thank Mr. Elatar for taking time to address my concerns and make time to review the plans with me.