A column about history, culture, policy, and things in between.
I spent Saturday morning attending the final tours of our High Schools and did my best to answer whatever questions people had about the referendum. I did not offer advice or direction; I wanted to make myself available for questions. I enjoyed speaking with one gentleman who, while acknowleding the schools needed a lot, told me why he was not going to support this plan.
Based on all I have heard and seen, I believe that is one issue upon which there is near unanimity - that the high schools are in need of some significant investment. How much and what kind is obviously the question. I have maintained for the last several years that the question of "what to do" is one on which reasonable people can, should, and obviously do disagree. I have also remarked that this question of "what to do" is like Alexander the Great's Gordian Knot - a complex and seemingly unsolvable puzzle, with no single solution being attractive to a significant majority of our community.
There is no doubting that there is a large number of residents who feel this plan does not go far ENOUGH. Just as obviously, there are significant numbers who feel this current plan goes TOO far, and contains spending that is excessive and/or innapropriate. And to both parties I say a sincere "fair enough". I do not question the motivations or values of people on either side.
I support this plan because I am convinced that no group has, can, or will conduct a more thorough and comprehensive analysis of ALL the factors involved (physical - educational - financial - political), and present such a comprehensive and responsible solution that encompasses the gamut of our community's concerns, as has the HSST. I don't believe this School Board can do it. I don't believe a future School Board can do it. And I don't believe a future citizen's group can do it any better. That doesn't mean I am right - it is just what I have come to believe. Why?
The process the Team followed, the comprehensive Program of Specifications used, the level of detail they looked at and evaluated, the number of stakeholders they interviewed, the exhaustive tours of our own and other schools, the expertise of the people on both the HSST and e Progress in the areas of construction, HVAC, and maintenance, the sheer amount of time and scrutiny employed, and the tough and difficult discussions held over the course of seven months - these are the factors that led to my conclusion.
The Board DID make changes to the original HSST recommendation. That change was the addition of two classrooms at each school, and the enlarging of a fixed number of core instructional classrooms at each school. There are real and legitimate reasons for this, and of course, grounds to oppose it. The pros and cons of this were debated over the course of two Open Board Meetings, the content of which is public record. Financially, these changes meant an increase of $1.1MM over the initial HSST recommendation. It was the HSST plan, with this change, that the Board umanimously approved.
What the District has spent on maintenance over the last few decades and how such projects are identified, prioritized and chosen, is a matter of public record and a part of each year's publicly discussed and presented budget. The average annual capital expenditure in the last many years has been a little more than one million dollars, and it is a matter of legitimate debate as to whether the District could have or should have spent more on maintenance.
As to the operating budget itself, there are four areas that, in my view, constitute "critical mass". Those four areas are utilities, busing, employee salaries and benefits, and the number of facilities owned and operated by the District. No serious discussion of ANY budget can be held without these areas. This is not so much a political statement as it is an actuarial reality. I believe that this Board, future Boards, and this community will have to give hard consideration to ALL of these areas, and I spoke to some of this at the March 4 Candidate Forum.
As has been stated by the District many times, our High Schools are structurally sound. Given that, people will decide this on a value proposition basis. It has met my value test. We will soon learn if it meets the community's.
Whatever your view, please vote tomorrow.