A vague and poorly planned school bond initiative

Sunday , November 05, 2017 - 4:30 AM5 comments

STANDARD-EXAMINER EDITORIAL BOARD

Ogden’s schools — many of them — are crumbling. They’re outdated. They cannot support modern technology.

No one argues that. No one argues Ogden needs to invest in the children who attend its schools.

But the Ogden School District bond initiative is the wrong form of investment. It is a proposal so vague, so poorly planned and developed, that it’s the equivalent of writing the district a blank check.

  • RELATED: “Ogden's Polk school at heart of debate over $106.5 million bond proposal”

In July, the Ogden School Board committed to putting a $106.5 million bond initiative on the Nov. 7 ballot. At its core, it is a proposal to replace three elementary schools.

By mid-August, the board had identified one — Horace Mann. In early September, it added T.O. Smith.

The board did not identify Polk Elementary as the third school to be torn down and replaced until Sept. 21. Voters began receiving mail-in ballots less than a month later.

That’s not enough time to consider a $106.5 million investment, especially one that’s taking shape almost right up until election day.

Polk is the flashpoint.

The school board insists it only decided which schools to demolish and replace after consulting with parents and the surrounding communities. But the decision to raze Polk, a historically significant building that’s home to the district’s highest-achieving school, created such an uproar that the board was caught by surprise.

  • RELATED: “Polk Elementary celebrates state-assigned 'A' grade for the 2nd year”

We don’t have to demolish it. We can talk about preserving part of it, the board said last week. We’ll be good community partners.

This bond proposal is still changing, and its centerpiece — the replacement of three elementary schools — remains so vague the board believes it can change the initiative after voters approve it.

Trust us, the district argues. If we don’t keep our word, voters won’t approve another bond initiative for a generation.

Not good enough. A bond initiative isn’t a handshake agreement; essentially, it’s a contract, requiring specific projects in return for an agreed-upon amount of taxpayer dollars.

The Ogden School District bond initiative isn’t a contract. It’s a $106.5 million expense account with no taxpayer safeguards.

Outside of getting rid of three old buildings, it isn’t clear what the district hopes to achieve with the initiative.

Is it better education? Then explain how the new schools will surpass Polk Elementary, the only school in the district awarded an A by the Utah State Board of Education for its 2016-17 test scores.

Is it cost savings? Where will they come from — especially if you’re forced to absorb the costs associated with expanded busing? You’re asking taxpayers to invest in capital projects. What will we save in operations?

Is it winning back state dollars through higher enrollment? You can’t fill the three schools you intend to demolish; Polk is at half capacity. Now you want to replace three neighborhood schools, each capable of accommodating about 600 students, with significantly larger buildings. Where will those extra 200 students come from at each school? Which schools besides Taylor Canyon will you close in order to fill the new buildings? What guarantee can you provide that you aren’t building high-tech student warehouses that will never be filled?

You’ve failed to address any of these issues in specific detail.

Students waited this long for the district to develop a vague and incomplete bond initiative; they can survive one more year while the board develops a specific proposal that tells taxpayers exactly what they’ll get for their $106.5 million, and why.

The Standard-Examiner editorial board opposes the Ogden School District’s bond initiative.

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