VALPARAISO | The Valparaiso Community Schools board faced pointed questioning Tuesday on its after-the-fact approval of a deal to bring a multimedia screen and scoreboard to Valparaiso High School in time for Friday's football season opener.
City resident Christopher Pupillo said he was assured at July's board meeting that no district dollars would be spent on the scoreboard. But at an Aug. 4 special meeting, at which the project was approved, the board reported an athletic department fund would pay about $250,000 in construction costs and be reimbursed by donor commitments, Pupillo said.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Haworth said Tuesday that $54,000 in donor commitments have been secured for the board's first year. Pupillo asked the board why the draft minutes of the Aug. 4 meeting state that existing commitments for advertising total approximately $275,000.
At that meeting, the board approved the contract for the scoreboard, saying district employees already had initiated the plan, raised donations and sponsorships and signed a contract for construction.
Board member Mark Maassel said the goal of identifying and generating alternative sources of revenue during times of lowered funding for public education was laudable. The process needed to be strengthened, but the district wanted to encourage creative thinking on funding, Maassel said.
Resident Jack Bloom asked who signed the contract and by what authority.
By individuals who thought they had the authority, Maassel said to a smattering of laughter from the audience.
Bloom said his problem was that the board approved it without competitive bidding.
"How can we be assured it was done fairly and we got the best deal?" Bloom said.
Resident Jeff Jacobs said he supported the scoreboard and its revenue-generating potential, but the process was wrong.
"On the face of it, it doesn't look kosher," Jacobs said. "And it's being investigated after the fact."
Jacobs said he talked with Maassel and board President James Sarkisian about the scoreboard project in May.
Board attorney David Hollenbeck said his investigation with state agencies of the contract has not determined if the athletic department funds used are to be considered public funds and therefore subject to competitive bidding. The board voted in the meantime to self-report the facts and circumstances of the scoreboard acquisition to the State Board of Accounts.
Former board member James Bernard said, whether the funds are public or not, the board's bylaws require competitive bids on projects exceeding $50,000.
Pupillo said there was no public debate and accused the board of breaking past promises of openness.