Trick play?

Ben­tonville board mem­ber de­fends sta­dium fund­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

Call them de­cep­tive plays, trick plays, gim­mick plays or mis­di­rec­tion plays. What­ever they’re called, these are those rarely used tac­tics in foot­ball and other sports that coaches and their play­ers prac­tice for spe­cial sit­u­a­tions when the con­ven­tional play­book isn’t get­ting the job done.

There’s also that play per­pet­u­ally pulled off by Lucy Van Pelt, holder of the foot­ball for Peanuts’ Char­lie Brown. Year af­ter year, Lucy holds the ball for Char­lie Brown’s in­evitable kick. And year af­ter mer­ci­less year, she yanks the ball away right as Char­lie Brown kicks, af­ter which he falls with a thud.

We’re not sure which kind of play the Ben­tonville School Board made re­cently with its sud­den, un­ad­ver­tised de­ci­sion to de­vote nearly $2 mil­lion to con­struc­tion of a new sta­dium at West High School. It sure wasn’t your run-of-the-mill ma­neu­ver. It qual­i­fies as ex­traor­di­nar­ily rare in both the way it was ex­e­cuted and the way it was kept un­der wraps un­til it was al­ready in mo­tion. And some pa­trons of the School Dis­trict un­doubt­edly felt a dis­heart­en­ing thud with the board’s Lucy- like, last-sec­ond ma­neu­ver.

Some board mem­bers had stressed that the ma­neu­ver wasn’t even part of the dis­trict’s play­book. Un­til it was.

As re­cently as a few days be­fore Ben­tonville School Dis­trict vot­ers went to the polls to vote on an­other school mill­age re­quest, board Pres­i­dent Travis Riggs re­jected the con­cerns of two for­mer board mem­bers who feared a plan to al­lo­cate tax­payer dol­lars to the sta­dium if vot­ers ap­proved the mill­age. Riggs said he had “no in­tent to spend dis­trict money” on West’s sta­dium.

Ben­tonville West is the dis­trict’s sec­ond high school. It opened last year in Cen­ter­ton. It’s the home of the Wolver­ines, a crit­ter known to be a lit­tle sneaky in its pur­suit of re­sources it needs to thrive. School Dis­trict of­fi­cials at­tempted to gain voter ap­proval for a mill­age in­crease in 2012 to build the new high school, in­clud­ing its ath­letic fa­cil­i­ties, but 58 per­cent of the vot­ers said no. In 2013, re­spond­ing to polling, the school board pro­posed a smaller mill­age to pay for the sec­ond high school, but not its ath­let­ics fa­cil­i­ties. It passed, with 70 per­cent say­ing yes.

Nat­u­rally, though, a high school needs ath­letic fa­cil­i­ties. Ath­letic pro­grams are a vi­tal part of our ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem, pro­vid­ing a com­pet­i­tive out­let for play­ers but also an av­enue for school spirit and cul­ture. Dis­trict of­fi­cials man­aged to find the money for many sports fa­cil­i­ties at West, but a foot­ball sta­dium is a ma­jor in­vest­ment.

So, the Wolver­ines prac­tice at their school, but their home games are on the bor­rowed turf at Ben­tonville

High School’s Tiger Sta­dium. It can safely be said that Tigers and Wolver­ines do not like to share the same habi­tat.

“Tiger Sta­dium doesn’t feel like home,” Wolver­ine Coach Bryan Pratt told school board mem­bers last Novem­ber. “It’s al­most like we’re play­ing a road game ev­ery week.”

Last Novem­ber, the board dis­cussed spend­ing up to $2 mil­lion for the sta­dium, but put that mat­ter on hold with­out a de­ci­sion. Then came the as­sur­ances prior to the re­cent mill­age elec­tion.

So it was quite the sur­prise July 17, at the start of a board meet­ing, when Wil­lie Cowgur, the board’s vice pres­i­dent, moved to make the last-sec­ond change to the meet­ing’s agenda. The board added the sta­dium spend­ing by a 5-2 vote, with Matt Burgess and Joe Quinn vot­ing “no.”

By the even­ing’s end, Cowgur, Riggs, Re­becca Pow­ers, Eric White and Brent Leas had voted to spend $1,976,000 on the Wolver­ines’ sta­dium, a move ath­letic depart­ment of­fi­cials be­lieve will give their fundrais­ing ef­forts a boost. Cowgur said the dis­trict could use $1.6 mil­lion from the sale of 40 acres on Bright Road to Buff­in­g­ton Homes of Arkansas, a sale the board also ap­proved that night. The rest would come from money left over from cap­i­tal projects fund­ing in the dis­trict.

Hap­pen­ing as it did not long af­ter vot­ers ap­proved the mill­age, it’s easy to un­der­stand how the term “bait and switch” came to peo­ple’s minds.

“We all know that if the mill­age had failed, we would not be hav­ing this dis­cus­sion tonight,” Quinn told his col­leagues. “So we can say it’s not re­lated, but com­mon sense would tell you that it is.”

Cowgur, re­spond­ing to ques­tions last week, said the Bright Road prop­erty wasn’t put up for sale un­til April and its sale came af­ter the mill­age vote. Us­ing that money for the sta­dium doesn’t change what the mill­age rev­enue, as promised, will be used for, he said.

Fun­da­men­tally, the aver­sion to spend­ing any tax dol­lars on a high school sta­dium is mis­placed. The School Dis­trict should build a sta­dium that at least al­lows the Wolver­ines to have 7A games there, just as it would spend the money nec­es­sary to fin­ish out a school. But they bear re­spon­si­bil­ity for cre­at­ing the at­mos­phere in which they’re be­ing crit­i­cized. When Ath­letic Di­rec­tor Scott Pass­more asked per­mis­sion to start a fundrais­ing cam­paign in July 2016, a board mem­ber told him not to come back 18 months later ask­ing for dis­trict money. Pass­more didn’t have to wait that long.

Other board mem­bers had re­ferred to the sta­dium project as a lux­ury, with other pri­or­i­ties in front of it.

Our strong­est crit­i­cism is re­served for last- sec­ond agenda change. A July school board meet­ing is rarely packed with stu­dents, par­ents and other School Dis­trict pa­trons. Tax­pay­ers and school pa­trons were given no no­tice of the is­sue. They should have been given a heads up. Cowgur could have made his pro­posal for the Bright Road sale rev­enue and the board could have then taken up the sta­dium al­lo­ca­tion at its next reg­u­lar meet­ing. There was no ur­gency, but even if there was, the school board could call a spe­cial meet­ing.

Giv­ing tax­pay­ers a chance to pro­vide feed­back is a re­spon­si­ble step for peo­ple elected to serve them. Per­haps the five mem­bers who backed this plan were res­o­lute, con­vinced noth­ing could sway them. So be it, but part of their job is lis­ten­ing, and they should not as­sume no­body but their fel­low board mem­bers have any­thing im­por­tant to say.

Whether it was the board’s in­tent to sti­fle dis­cus­sion or not, that was the ef­fect. Board mem­bers un­nec­es­sar­ily cre­ated some hard feel­ings that could have been avoided, or at least tem­pered, by re­sist­ing the urge to shut out the pub­lic. If it’s a good de­ci­sion to spend nearly $2 mil­lion on the sta­dium in July, it will still be a good de­ci­sion at the next meet­ing.

So raise the rest of that money and build the sta­dium, but school board mem­bers shouldn’t be sur­prised if some of their pa­trons throw a penalty flag for im­proper pro­ce­dure.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.