I attended the 3-5:pm Community Dialog, the latest in a series of public-engaging discussions put on by Unit 4 and DeJong-Richter. I have a number of mixed feelings about it. Before I jump in, those who wish to form their own opinions are welcome to peruse the futurefacilities links first:
- The options themselves: 4 Elementary School (ES – Green), 3 Middle School (MS – Yellow) and 4 High School (HS – Orange) options
- The “District snapshot“: A amalgam of previously released reports, updated with more information about the current schools and a bonus track with Holly Nelson’s work
- The questionnairre: we did this both as individuals and as a group during the session today (note the online version can indeed be submitted online)
Also, here is Meg’s scoop on the options:
So here we go.
I didn’t pay too much attention to the presentation, having seen most of it before, knowing what was coming. I did browse through some of the new information, and I slowly realized that there was a whole lot of emphasis on the elementary schools. Let me emphasize, I was very slow to pick up on that. With the benefit of hindsight, I see it much more clearly now. It was almost as if this “high school siting” project had morphed into this ravenous beast. To be sure, we already knew that this project wasn’t going to be merely about siting the high school, no matter what the initial RFP said; there is simply no way we could just find a new lovely plot of land and bit-a-boom-bit-a-bang have a new facility. We have too much other crap to deal with, especially the middle schools that will require some attention in the very near future. But the elementary schools had not been on my personal radar in the context of DeJong-Richter. Somehow I missed that. And now as I look back at the information packets, I am reminded about a bunch of history surrounding maintenance and upkeep.
So let us take a quick trip down memory lane – I’ll spare you and only rewind the clock about 5 years. Actually, as I was researching this topic, I have too many sources and information to pack into this post about the Community Dialog. I am going to summarize with this:
- the school district did a crappy job with finances until Gene Logas was hired in 2006. Meaning, the district had zero plans to finance maintenance on any of the buildings
- 2008 rolls around and you can hear a collective “oh shit, we gotta do something”. And a lot things started happening; Great Schools, Together came out with a 10-year capital improvement plan, a number of taxes were levied, and we voted in favor of the 1% sales tax in 2009.
- Additionally, pressure from the Consent Decree Plaintiff Class, Judge McDade and the Court Monitor convince the district to build seats “north of University” by remodeling Garden Hills and BTW. (I don’t know how the Savoy school slipped in there, but it did)
- Last year, the district dipped further into the taxpayers’ pockets with a crafty working cash bond that allowed the district to narrow the gap between monies being spent and monies coming in.
So with this brief historical context, I am confused why we are thinking about yet another portion of tax to cover $38 to $59 million of elementary school upgrades. I am finding it really difficult to keep all these taxes straight, and how much money is dancing around. (but more on that in another post)
As I was looking through the Elementary School options, I was very pleased to see that K-8 was being considered in two of the four options. To be honest, the bulk of my happiness came from the mere fact that it was simply different. I am very worried that most people are going to like and want a picture of our schools that very closely reflects what we have now. But what we have now is not necessary the best. Hence, I like differences – they are like spices and seasoning on otherwise bland food. So I instantly gravitated towards the two options with K-8 plans.
Moving on to the Middle Schools, I was a bit nonchalant about it. The only thing that even caught my attention was the idea of moving Edison into Central (two of the three options). I think the reason I like that idea is that it allows Edison (the people) to grow while recycling the older structure (of Central). Overall, I found the Middle School options to be expensive.
And then the High School options. This one raised my blood rate a bit. Frankly, I very much disliked all the options presented. It was frustrating. I didn’t even choose the “best of four evils”. The first option is basically to leave everything where they are, but we get to spend $106 million and the total capacity will not be enough. Umm… how does that even make sense? As much as I don’t like the second option, I at least give the folks kudos for thinking up something strange and “out of box” a little. The reason I didn’t like the second option is that I don’t see the point of co-locating two fully functional and mostly independent high schools withing a stone’s throw of each other. In that scenario, it makes more sense to have a 9-10 building and a 11-12 building. But two side-by-side 9-12 buildings just …. flabbergasts me. I don’t get it. And then the last option. I call this the “sprawl” option – it throws the high school way out to the edge of development (in one of four directions, take your pick). Overall, I don’t like how these options focus on taking the high school away from the highest densities of population, especially those areas that are expected to have high populations of high school students in 10 years. I was disappointed that these were the only options we have to choose from. Very disappointed.
On that note, I felt our discussion was a bit rushed. The focus was to try to get some kind of concensus so we could mark up our decisions on the big sheets of paper in front (just like the initial community discussions we had a few months ago). This meant we talked more about what to mark down as a compromise rather than the stregnths and weaknesses of these choices. I really wanted to have a ton more discussion, with a ton more people. The reason is primarily to help me understand why people would even want any of these high school options. Perhaps if I can learn some of the really strong benefits from the people who will be paying the taxes, it would help me vote for it. On the other hand, if taxpayers don’t really have any strong feelings and are just going with the flow, we are screwed! Our table came up with a plan that was $350 million! It was absolutely ludicrous, even though I tried to fight against it. It was almost as if we had to decide on an option for all three (ES, MS and HS), but we didn’t. I refused to agree to any high school option, and I still think we don’t need to do the Elementary options quite as big as what we were given (even though I still like the K-8 possibility). It all felt so… contrived in a way. As if there is this big train barreling down on us and we just have to decide how much it is going to hurt.
I mentioned to Scott as I was leaving that I would really like to see this as the first of several discussions. I still feel that way. You all need to speak up, and often.