UPDATE: On the 9 PM edition of 9News, November 2, anchor Kyle Clark made an apology for KUSA’s mistakes in the original Truth Test aired on October 29. The online story changes the verdict regarding building a school with no debt from “OVERSTATEMENT” to “NEEDS CONTEXT.”
A Truth Test from KUSA 9News puts forward numerous, sizable factual errors regarding the cost of a new school in the Jefferson County School District. Despite being provided with a document that demonstrated the error, news director Christy Moreno says the station stands behind their report.
At the same time, Moreno and others at the station twice refused to provide the source documentation for a key element of the inaccurate claims, and refused to say whether or not education reporter Nelson Garcia made missteps by not contacting the school district to test his assertions or attempt to fact check his own article.
This article will provide board documents and news sources that demonstrate Garcia is wrong about the dollar figures involved, and about the kind of school being built. As a result of all these errors, his assertion that the district needs a plan to generate an additional $10 million is both wildly misleading and inaccurate. The assertion paints a picture of fiscal irresponsibility by the district that should be remedied by 9News as quickly as possible.
Please keep in mind that while we will source all of our claims, 9News has refused to source their information, either in the original Truth Test aired or published, or in email conversations with Complete Colorado. Additionally, the report has already endured one significant correction because Garcia did not reach out to the district to test their response to the report he would eventually air.
THE REPORT BY GARCIA
In the October 29 Truth Test report, Garcia published the following, which begins with the claim made in the commercial:
CLAIM: “…Building a new school without debt.”
First of all, the school is not even built yet. The board approved the allocation of $15 million to construct a new K-8 school in northwest Arvada where the population is booming. But, the total cost to build the school will be $25 million. As of yet, no solid plans have been put in place to generate the additional $10 million. It is possible if the district ends up using a loan system known as Certificates of Participation, it will incur debt.
That same ad said the school board’s reform majority had supported popular policies like “building a new school without debt.” Based on this statement, Garcia produced the smaller fact test already quoted above.
For our support of this claim, we point you to a September 8 article from the Arvada Press, which says, “The district had initially considered Table Rock because it said it would be the largest school it could construct with the $18 million allocated for the building (emphasis added).” The same article mentioned no other dollar figure or estimated dollar range for the school.
An October 21 article from Chalkbeat Colorado asserts, “As part of the district’s final 2015-2016 budget, the board majority instead directed $18 million to build a new school for students in kindergarten through sixth grade (emphasis added).” The same article only makes this other mention regarding the school costs, saying, “Superintendent Dan McMinimee and his staff first pitched the district borrowing $30 million to build a new kindergarten through eighth grade school. However, the board majority rejected the proposal, saying it did not want to add any more debt to the district given an uncertain state funding forecast from the state.”
Finally, a board document from September 3 of this year plainly states, “An $18 million dollar budget has been established…”
So why would Garcia assert the school board “approved the allocation of $15 million” for the new school? Because 9News would not provide its source documents or sources for the Truth Test in general, we can only speculate. However, this June 4 report from the Denver Post’s YourHub says the school board approved $15 million for a new school. That article was accurate in June, but the amount allocated would be increased in later decisions by the board.
It’s should also be noted that the TV ad is also factually in error in this regard concerning the final amount allocated for construction. While the narrator says, “…building a new school without debt,” the visual includes a chalkboard which references the previously cited June 4 YourHub report. The visual on the chalkboard repeats the old information, “Jeffco board OKs $15M for new school.” But the factual error does not mar or undermine the claim that the board is building the new school without debt.
It therefore appears possible Garcia used old and outdated information from June rather than relying on the updated decisions made in board meetings—especially those from September—in which $18 million was approved.
Next, Garcia asserts, “…the total cost to build the school will be $25 million.”
Because 9News would not share their sources or their source documents, we again must speculate on where this figure originates.
This early document from May, prepared by district staff, estimates that a school at the Candelas site (the site eventually chosen) would cost $25 million, but that estimate is for a K-8 school that would accommodate approximately 800-1000 students. In September, the board voted to change the school to a K-6 instead of a K-8 that would accommodate 625 students. Other estimates for school construction in the same document put estimated construction costs of a 576-768 student K-6 school in the range of $18-$22 million. (Note that the Chalkbeat article cited earlier also correctly notes that the construction monies were set aside for a K-6 school as the K-6 decision was not made until the September 24 board meeting.)
It is entirely possible that Garcia used the $25 million dollar figure if he felt that construction overruns might push the project higher, and taking cost overruns into account is a reasonable procedure when considering a budget for major capital construction. However, if the $25 million figure is an estimate based on projected cost overruns, the report should have acknowledged that, and should have stated who created the estimates using what method. Instead, Mr. Garcia stated it as if it were a sourced, historical fact.
According to Michelle Lyng, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County School District, Mr. Garcia did not reach out to the district at any time before airing or publishing his report to test the district’s response.
In the earlier 9News correction on the very same Truth Test, Garcia and 9News admit they made a mistake in fact-checking the salary difference between two superintendents because they used an old, outdated contract for one of those persons.
It appears that Mr. Garcia, in analyzing the cost of the school, made factual mistakes on every account via the exact same method, i.e. using old and outdated information. His $15 million figure of what was approved for the construction of the school is factually wrong and appears based on old information. His assertion that the school will cost $25 million is precisely that—an unsourced assertion—and also appears based on outdated information that would ultimately change in board discussions.
Therefore, to assert there is a $10 million shortfall that must be accounted for is factually in error, misleading, and may have allowed people to vote based on this misinformation.
Complete Colorado’s education reporter, Sherrie Peif, contributed to this report.