As the immediate past-President of the LFHS Boosters and a co-chair of its Diamond Anniversary Campaign, I’m compelled to write in response to recent posts by Al Boese, Nancy Thorner and Todd Burgener on the topic of the new $5 million capital improvement plan being considered by the Lake Forest High School District 115 Board of Education (BOE).
First – and perhaps most importantly – I’m proud to be a part of a remarkable community. The extraordinary generosity of this community allowed the LFHS Boosters to offer an unprecedented $1.7 million gift to LFHS, to help fund a proposed new sports and wellness complex at Lindenmeyer Field. This proposed project was to include installation of a new synthetic turf field, replacement of an
existing track that is in disrepair, and related improvements. As most know, the Boosters’ proposed gift was ultimately refused by the BOE last spring.
The capital improvement plan now being considered by the BOE would include replacement of the same track, which has reignited discussion of the BOE’s previous handling of the Diamond Anniversary Campaign offer. The purpose of this letter is to ensure that relevant facts are understood by those wishing to express an opinion as to BOE’s current plan or its previous failure to accept the Boosters’ offer. In particular, this letter serves to correct significant misstatements of fact by Mr. Burgener in his posts. I note that Mr. Burgener is an incumbent candidate running for re-election to the BOE.
By way of background, the Diamond Anniversary Campaign (DAC) was introduced in August 2011 with a stated goal of $2.5 million to help fund installation of two new synthetic turf fields, replacement of the track, and related improvements at Lindenmeyer Field. After many months of discussions with LFHS administrators and representatives of the BOE, one of the two proposed turf fields was eliminated from the plan at the BOE’s insistence. Total project costs for the modified plan (as publicly bid) were estimated to be $2.9 million. $1.6 million of this total was attributable to replacement of the track.
Based on this modified project scope, the Boosters offered a total gift of $1.7 million, including $350,000 immediately and $700,000 in the first year, with the balance payable over 5 years in accordance with pledged commitments from several hundred DAC donors. D115 would have been responsible for the remaining $1.2 million. In other words, the Boosters’ proposed gift would have covered all costs of the proposed turf field and would have defrayed approximately $400,000 of the cost of the track replacement (i.e. the benefit to have been realized by the D115 by moving ahead last summer rather than deferring the project). Having refused the Boosters’ gift, D115 will now assume full responsibility for the $1.6 million cost of the track replacement under the new plan, versus its $1.2 million obligation under the DAC proposal. Mr. Burgener’s suggestion that DAC funding would not have contributed to the track is incorrect.
Likewise, Mr. Burgerner’s characterizations of the Boosters’ proposed gift – and his assertion that the DAC “failed to deliver on its promise” – are inaccurate. The proposed gift commitment, including the total amount and the proposed payment schedule, were carefully considered and unanimously approved by the Boosters Board of Directors and the Diamond Anniversary Campaign Executive Committee (collectively, 30+ representatives) based on actual cash donations and written pledge commitments. The most significant of these multi-year pledges were from donors with a demonstrated history of giving to various civic and philanthropic causes. While risk of non-payment should absolutely be considered by the BOE, any evaluation of such risk must be reasonable. DAC donors would have had to renege on more than $400,000 in committed pledges for D115’s net exposure to have been greater than it is today for a stand-alone track replacement (and the Boosters committed to mitigate any perceived downside risk with continued fundraising). It’s also noteworthy that 5-year pledges were contemplated from the inception of the DAC, so the existence of these pledges was not a surprise. In fact, it was D115 that first proposed to finance DAC’s multi-year pledges, given its access to capital at favorable rates.
In the end, however, the BOE simply desired more upfront cash and was unwilling to accept a proposed schedule of payments that corresponded to the generous multi-year pledges received from DAC donors. As one donor put it, “the school board looked a gift horse in the mouth, and then shot it dead.” As a result, more than $350,000 of collected cash has been returned to donors, and more than $1.5 million of committed pledges have been extinguished. So, here we are, beating a dead gift horse.
Of course it’s true, as Mr. Burgener states, that the same track that was in need of replacement last year is still in need of replacement this year. I applaud the BOE for finally recognizing and addressing the need at this point. It’s just unfortunate that this stand-alone track replacement must now be undertaken at the sole expense of taxpayers, when significant private assistance was offered, and declined, just a few months ago. As a result, D115 will pay a greater cost for a lesser asset.
Thank you yet again to our many DAC supporters for your generosity and countless hours.