The justifications for the Hoover closure have shifted so frequently that it’s hard not to wonder: what’s really going on? If efficiency and fiscal concerns were really the issue, Hoover would never have been the school chosen for closure. If insufficient enrollment were really the issue, Hoover would never have been chosen. If insufficient diversity were the issue, Hoover would never have been chosen. There’s only one reason Hoover was chosen: because some City High advocates have always wanted that property for City.
City has a tenacious set of advocates, which is good. A certain subset of its most ardent advocates, though, have become so accustomed to defending City that they are ready to justify any sacrifice in City’s name and vilify anyone who departs from the most extreme pro-City stance. One City High partisan, for example, recently accused school board member Tuyet Dorau of wanting to “weaken City High at any cost.” Candidate Sara Barron, a south-east-sider who has made intra-district equity a centerpiece of her campaign, has nevertheless gotten the cold shoulder from many in the City-über-alles crowd, because she had the nerve not to toe the line on the Hoover closure. Hoover parents – City’s immediate neighbors – who have questioned the rationale for the closure have been presumptively accused of being “anti-City-High.” Some City High supporters even gave each other high-fives at the meeting when the school board voted to close Hoover, as Hoover parents looked on. Treating people this way does not help City High; it just breeds resentment and ill will among the people who should naturally be City High’s allies.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to ensure that City High is a strong high school. But there comes a point when the constant anxiety about West High leads to overreaching that hurts City more than it helps it. Yes, West has a bigger property, and will always have a bigger property, than City, and that will likely be true of the new high school, too. It has a bigger front lawn and more parking spaces. Its athletic fields are all on site. But you need a better reason than that to close an elementary school (and to spend ten to fifteen million dollars doing it).
City’s advocates have raised other concerns as well: for example, about the relative number of AP course sections offered at the two high schools. (For some people, the main purpose of the district’s diversity policy is apparently to ensure that there are as many AP course sections for their kids at City as there are for the kids at West. Never mind how diverse those classrooms are.) It’s not clear how bringing City’s enrollment up to 1500 (which is only 86 more students than it already has) will appreciably increase its AP offerings. More importantly, no one has been able to articulate any connection between those concerns and the acquisition of the Hoover property. There is wide agreement that the proposed City High addition cannot go on the Hoover property, because Hoover is too far from the other classroom areas of City. So how will taking Hoover facilitate the addition? (No one wants to say publicly that Hoover will become a big parking lot, but it’s hard to see how else it can facilitate the addition.) No one will answer the question.
One City advocate laid out the argument to me this way: We may all know that City can hold 1400 or 1500 students, but the consultants say that it can hold only 1293. We need to build that addition – even if we don’t really need the space – because otherwise City’s on-paper capacity will be smaller than the other high schools’, so in the distant future City could end up the smallest of the three, and it might lose the attendance areas that provide the kind of kids who take a lot of AP courses. So, for the sake of making City’s on-paper capacity numbers equal to the other high schools’, we should spend ten million dollars to build an addition and another ten or fifteen million to tear down an elementary school. Even in this nutty rationale, there was no connection between the addition and the acquisition of Hoover.
I live next door to City High. All of my kids will attend City. The three candidates I’m voting for – Phil Hemingway, Gregg Geerdes, and Sara Barron – are from City High households. None of us are hostile to City High. We all want City to be a great school. But no one has shown that City needs the Hoover property. No one has even identified how the property will be used. For those reasons, many City High supporters, both in the Hoover attendance area and beyond, have recognized that the case for closing Hoover is unconvincing.
The best way to help City is to build and maintain a broad coalition founded on the people who are City’s natural base of support and extending beyond them, too. That kind of coalition has helped City be, by all accounts, one of the best high schools in the state. But rather than foster that coalition, City’s most zealous partisans have sacrificed it for the sake of ramming through a school closure that hurts City’s own neighbors, based on tortured rationales and without popular support. It will take years to re-establish the trust and unity among City’s supporters that existed only a few months ago. Even the ability to get bond approvals – once taken for granted in this district – is now in doubt. With friends like these, City doesn’t need enemies.