Letter | The Virtual School Scam

The state school superintendent (SPI) is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars for new construction in the Capital Budget.  It may pass without much scrutiny because (as Larry Springer aptly states in his recent Kirkland Views video) the legislature has had only one topic on its mind, the Operating Budget. For the last several years  SPI has been using a major portion of its capital funds to enable what I call the "Virtual School" scam. It's been successfully plied for several years by affluent school districts to pilfer state matching money for otherwise ineligible new construction. The scam is simple.  A district starts a "modernization" project.  It then requires the Architect to include the cost to provide temporary housing (a "Virtual School") during the entire time of remodeling, as a part of the cost of modernization.  This contrived major cost, when combined with major remodeling costs, runs the total estimated project cost above the state matching limit for a modernization project.  SPI rejects the modernization project based on this bogus estimate, but rubber stamps a request for state matching funds for new construction in lieu of modernization. This costs the state 50-60% more in matching costs than if the building were remodeled.  A substantially sound public building with scores of remaining useful years becomes landfill.  The district gets a new school and calls it "modernized".  The state has 50-60% less money to spend on legitimately needed projects.  The public is fleeced at both the state and local level.  This practice is clearly neither fiscally responsible nor sustainable in any sense.

Since the "Virtual School" is never built, the ruse is used over and over for other projects.  Only SPI knows how many districts have taken advantage of this ploy for how many schools over how many years.  LWSD alone has used the scam for over 20 schools and still counting.  We're talking hundreds of millions of dollars wasted in any case.  Serious money.  I'm not sure where the Capital Budget is at this point.  In any event, I'd like to go on record asking Larry Springer to take some time away from his dedicated work on the Operating Budget and find enough likeminded fiscally responsible colleagues as needed to disapprove any further capital funding for SPI which would enable the continuation of this scam.

Paul Hall