Sunday , November 26, 2017 - 4:30 AM3 comments
A new approach seems to be emerging on the Ogden School Board — a plan to build new schools without asking voters to approve a bond initiative.
It may be the quickest way to begin rebuilding the city’s crumbling schools, but in the end, it may not be the most effective.
Whatever the board decides, it needs to articulate a clear, detailed strategy built parent by parent, neighborhood by neighborhood and school by school.
Voters rejected the board’s $106 million bond initiative by 238 votes earlier this month. The plan called for replacing three neighborhood elementary schools, adding Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classrooms at two junior highs, and building a new gymnasium at Ben Lomond High School.
The board approved the initiative before identifying which schools to raze, however, failing to designate the third — Polk, the district’s highest-performing school — until about six weeks before Election Day. When opponents objected to tearing down the historically significant school, the board offered to revise its initiative to save a portion of the building, if that’s what the community wanted.
At least in part, that’s why the initiative failed. Not only did the board assemble its proposal in pieces, it failed to sufficiently engage the community in conversation about the fate of its schools.
President Jeff Heiner said Tuesday he didn’t know if the board would offer a second bond initiative.
“We’re going to discuss that in the near future,” he told Tim Vandenack, a reporter for the Standard-Examiner.
Board member Joyce Wilson said she wanted to see an analysis of the Nov. 7 vote, suggesting it could offer insight into why the initiative failed. But no matter what the board learns, she told Vandenack, maybe the smart play is building one school at a time.
That approach eliminates the need for an election and costs less, she said.
Board member Don Belnap made essentially the same point a few days after the election. He suggested building one new school in 2018, as opposed to three schools over four years, as called for in the bond initiative.
“Thus, again, if you think I’m willing to spend the next 12 to 24 months trying to craft another bond proposal, that if it isn’t just perfect ... it’ll be voted down again, I say, ‘No way,’” he said.
The district didn’t go to voters for money to build Odyssey Elementary, which opened in 2007. And it took the same approach to New Bridge, a STEM magnet school now in its second year.
But this is the same board that insisted it needed a bond initiative to build a modern school system.
“Bonding through a positive vote of the people is the lowest cost mechanism available to a school district,” the board argued. “Because of the State School Bond Guarantee Program, the District can capitalize on the State’s ‘AAA’ rating to obtain low interest rates and make the most of precious taxpayer dollars.”
So is that still true or not?
Building one school at a time is the antithesis of a comprehensive plan. Yes, it allows you to avoid making your case to voters in a bond election, but that’s missing the point.
The point is you need to do what’s best for the future of our children.
If that requires a bond initiative, let’s see a concrete proposal. If it’s a series of new schools, share the vision that guides you.
Now is not the time to worry about winning or losing. It is a time to work with stakeholders and focus on a positive future for our children.
This is not a zero-sum game. Ultimately, a plan that earns buy-in from the community means we can begin building a modern school system together — as partners.
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