Investors ‘decide not to be involved’ in W-B Area school project

By Mark Guydish - [email protected] | September 1st, 2015 6:15 pm

WILKES-BARRE — Municipal Acquisitions, the investment firm based in Washington, D.C., that had expressed an interest in helping Wilkes-Barre Area School District finance construction projects, has “decided not to be involved in this particular project at this time,” a senior advisor from the firm said.

Diane Tomb (rhymes with “bomb”) said the company, which had been working with Bison Financial of Florida on a proposal to privately finance public school construction, stressed the decision doesn’t mean Municipal Acquisitions would not be interested in other projects in this area if it considered them a good fit.

The investment companies had been considering providing money up front for the school district’s high school construction/renovation plans, estimated at $100 million. David Repka of Bison Financial had previously said the investors were “agnostic” regarding the specific project, which would be determined by the district.

Assuming all legal issues could be worked out, Repka said the investors would provide money for the project akin to the district issuing a bond, though much more quickly. The money would be repaid as the district leased the building or buildings back for 30 years, with ownership reverting to the district once the final payment is made.

The notion of private investor funding was first presented by local businessman Bob Sypniewski, who briefly spelled it out at a Wilkes-Barre Area School Board meeting Aug. 10, then gave more details the following night at a gathering of about 40 people opposed to the board’s plan to merge Meyers and Coughlin High Schools into a new building to be constructed at the Coughlin site.

Sypniewski had been expected to flesh out the plan Sunday afternoon at a public forum set up by the newly-formed non-profit, “Save Our Schools,” but didn’t show up. When asked why Sypniewski and the investors weren’t there, Wilkes-Barre City Councilman George Brown, who had been the primary connection with Sypniewski, said Sypniewski had not returned calls for a week or more.

Tomb said Municipal Acquisitions had decided to publicize the decision regarding Wilkes-Barre Area after the Times Leader called Repka Monday.

While some had seen the private investment proposal as a possible way to save the three-school system, it was never billed that way by Sypniewski or Repka.

Wilkes-Barre Attorney Kimberly Borland, who has also worked in opposition to the district’s consolidation plan and who spoke at Sunday’s forum, said the idea was worth pursuing as an alternative funding source, but that private investment was never an important part of the opposition movement against the consolidation plan.

By Mark Guydish

[email protected]

Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish