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Friday, October 15, 2010

Regents Show Fiscal Restraint on Sports... Madison Next?

I noted Sunday that the South Dakota Board of Regents had a few athletic building proposals on its agenda this week. Yesterday, Bob Mercer reported that the Regents tabled all four of them. The four sports projects could cost $140 million. The money for the sports facilities would come from existing fees and private sources, but the Regents still want USD and SDSU to wait and think a few more months.

Bob Mercer explains what's really going on:

It’s a matter of political timing as much as anything, because none of those projects would have directly received a dime of taxpayers’ money. Student fees, grants and donations would have paid for them. Nonetheless, a nucleus of regents — Terry Baloun, Harvey Jewett and Randy Morris — decided now was not the time, with state government running on empty and the recession’s grip still showing in South Dakota’s unemployment rate — to be proposing big spending on big projects that aren’t clearly related to academics [emphasis mine; Bob Mercer, "Regents approve planning for athletic projects — nope!" Pure Pierre Politics, 2010.10.14].

State government on empty... recession... unemployment... now not the time for big spending not clearly related to academics... Boy! Why didn't the Madison Central School Board get this memo before proposing its multi-million-dollar new gym this week? Perhaps Regent Randy Schaefer will come home from the Regents meeting and remind his friends in the Madison Central School District of academics and fiscal restraint.


  1. Before any more collegiate sports facilities or expansions should be made, the SD Regents should give students the option of paying athletic fees or not paying them.

    Most of the money taken from students for activities appear to end up supporting jocks and possibly add a few thousand dollars of debt to the total for a 4 year degree.

  2. I'd love that option. I have never gotten a return on a single dollar of my athletic/activity fees. let the sports fees come entirely from admission fees... and let the sports fans in Madison pay for the luxury gym and bleachers and press box.

  3. Amen to both posts!!

  4. Michael Black10/15/2010 5:17 PM

    This might be the best time to fund the remodel/gym project. Interest rates are at historical lows. We can finance the project now and save money. While the economy is bad now, it will recover soon.

    Forty-five years is a long time to go without major improvements to any building.

  5. No one is arguing that some improvements probably need to be done. The problem is that this has turned into a domino effect project with the end result a new $8M plus gym. But as was stated when this issue came up last time, the final cost is not the $17 or so million that the thing will cost but the final cost plus interest. That is the true cost of the project. That is a lot of money to be mainly shouldered by property and business owners. Of course, if a person does not own anything or not much, then this project is just hunky dory because said person won't be paying for it for the next 20 or so years.

  6. Michael Black10/16/2010 7:12 AM

    Now is a great time to build. We have low interest rates. We have contractors hungry for work, making them willing to bid lower on the contract to get the job. We have a building in need of work.

    Are we willing to pass up a great financing opportunity to wait until the economy improves and costs increase?

    We don't have to do anything but maintainance to the high school. We can bandaid repairs for years down the road. The same arguments will be valid against any project 10 or 20 years from now. A "luxury" gym facility will always have opponents. Investment in infrastructure costs money in the form of taxes.

    We don't have to have a new gym in Madison, but if we are going to go ahead and do a giant remodel project, does it not make sense to do it right the first time. The middle school gym is too small to seat the fans that want to watch the games. If it was built big enough in the first place, then we would not be having the same discussion about a new gym today.

  7. I didn't realize that a luxury gym is infrastructure. And I'm still finding it hard to get up sympathy for those fans who can't pack into the middle school gym. Again, sports is a luxury (like ice cream), education is a necessity (like water). On top of that, the real reason for school sports isn't the kids (who actually lose out on time for education, play, and rest), it's the adults. But school is supposed to be for kids, not the relatives. When we're currently cutting actual education every time you turn around, why should we spend millions on sports?

  8. Activities have been part of education since education started in South Dakota. There are photos of football and basketball teams that go back to the early 20's, maybe even teens. It is one of the sources of pride, just like a strong debate team, cheerleading squad or cross country team. It brings families and relatives together.

    If people wonder why the "new" construction is over $8 Million instead of the $6 Million of the proposed gym from three years ago, it is because there is also a new Media Center (Library) that will be added on to the front of the High School, shared by both HS and MS students, and a stunning remodel of the front of the building. That portion is probably around $1.5 to $2 Million itself.

    Bond interest rates will never be lower, contractors are bidding extremely close to bare bones to get jobs, so in reality, there never will be a smarter time, financially, to remodel the HS and add gym space. We may get it done for 10% less than estimates right now. I'm anxious to learn the taxpayer cost also, but support the concept for Madison Central.

  9. Rod, I eagerly await the spreadsheet that breaks out the costs for each new part of the project. I will then advocate subtracting exactly the amount allocated for the new gym and reallocating some portion of that toward even better academic improvements.

    Sure, interest rates are low, but so are people's picketbooks and the assistance coming from the state. Low interest rates might help SDSU build that stadium, too, but the Regents are saying it's just not prudent to talk about such huge non-academic investments in the current economic climate. How is the situation different for MHS?

    Athletics may be a long part of our history, but as I've said to Michael, "is" doesn't make "ought." Things change. The budgetary demands of providing a 21st-century education to prepare our kids to compete with Germany, Japan and China may require us to invest more in academics and less in athletics. We might even have to adopt the European model of relegating all sports to the club level, the way soccer and baseball developed here.

  10. Would everyone taxpayer in the district by OK if the cost of this $18 M remodel/gym were spread equally among every taxpayer in the district? If they were forced into a huge rise in their taxes for the next 20 or so years?

    Will the city ante up some money to pay for it because of the economic boost it is supposed to provide? Will donors be actively sought? Will an extra penny sales tax be instituted? Or will these ideas be just dismissed saying they will never work or be impossible to pass? Someone told me the city doesn't have any extra money right now. Really?? Well, neither do business owners and property owners!

  11. Michael Black10/16/2010 9:03 PM

    I watch all of this with interest. I have many memories from my four years at Madison High School. I wonder if the proposed remodel will polarize the Madison Central district as it has in the Oldham-Ramona district.

  12. Every time this issue comes up it polarizes the Madison school district between those that get saddled with the bill and those who pay little or nothing.

    A free public education was never meant to include all that is now expected or mandated as part of "education." The US ranks about 18th or so compared to other nations academically. Why? Maybe part of the reason is that so much emphasis and money and time goes toward the ancillary part of an education. Not to say it isn't important, but just maybe it should be separate from taxpayer funded academics as a previous poster stated. Maybe this should be the responsibility of the parents, the young person who wants to participate, the community, the church, and not the taxpayers.

  13. It doesn't take an expensive gym for families and relatives to get together. Entirely agree with Nonnie on this one and glad a Tea Bagger spoke up on something local, but do wonder where the others are. Why should this solely come from property taxes? The real estate market is soft, both sales and rental, so after the pool (which doesn't serve older kids as well as the old one), and sidewalks, let's give it to them again? If we had been demanding and getting jobs, growth and a larger tax base things would be different. There's a lot of people hardly hanging on, so it takes a lot of nerve or arrogance to so easily want to spend other people's money.

  14. John, you bring up a good point. The coming school bond issue would be an excellent local issue for the 9-12 Project to get involved with. Linda and Jason and you and I can have fun all day debating Barack Obama's policies, but that discussion will likely have much less direct impact on our daily lives than talking to our neighbors about big government spending right here in our community. Linda, can I get on the agenda to speak to the 9-12 project about local politics (particularly this school issue) at the next meeting after the November election?

  15. Other than the McIntyres no one has raised any questions publicly, have they? Wish I had gone to that open house, as the school board probably feels they have more a free license because of disinterest. Willing to mingle on this issue if a meeting comes about.

  16. Linda, how about an invite and a 9-12 meeting on this topic? Sounds like John would be there... and maybe a whole lot more taxpayers!

  17. John, don't feel bad about missing the tour. I spent a good seven years in that building. I ran the Mundt tournament in nearly every nook of that facility for years. I know what's what, where's where... and I know we can get the renovations done without tacking on a new gym, if we really want to.


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