Next week, the superintendent will propose a time line for the projects in the facilities master plan. I’m certainly curious to see which projects he will recommend to go first, and which will have to wait. But what I’m really curious to know (and I don’t know if we’ll find this out next week) is which projects will require new bonds.
By all accounts, the district is about $100 million short of what it would need to fund its entire long-term facilities plan. As a result, many of the projects will require bonds. Those bonds will need to get 60% approval at the polls – never a sure bet, as the proponents of the county justice center can attest.
I hope the district will state its criteria for deciding which projects will proceed with existing funds and which can’t happen without bonds. It’s a complex issue, but in my view, basic improvements to existing buildings – such as air conditioning, overdue maintenance, accessibility renovations, and the construction of gyms/cafeterias/multipurpose rooms – should not require bond votes. It makes more sense to require bonds for some of the new capacity construction, especially to the extent that those projects are controversial and particularly expensive.
By my (very rough) calculations, the district plans to spend about $104 million on improvements, and about $148 million on building new capacity. Some of the new capacity is urgently needed; it might make sense, for example, to go ahead with building the addition at Penn and a new east side elementary without first seeking a bond vote. But the capacity projects that are more expensive, more controversial, and less immediately necessary should be the ones that are subject to bonding.
As for the time line, I’d take the same approach: The improvements are needed now, and in many cases are years overdue. Much of the new capacity is not.
I can’t deny that my criteria would help the case for keeping Hoover open. Hoover can’t close until there’s enough new capacity to relieve overcrowding and absorb the almost four hundred kids from Hoover. If any of the bonds for new elementary capacity get voted down, Hoover will have a new lease on life. But there’s good reason the closure should hinge on bond votes: it’s an expensive luxury compared to the urgently needed projects in the plan. In any event, their effect on Hoover aside, I can’t think of any fairer set of criteria.
The board members have some hard choices to make – partly because previous boards avoided making them – and I don’t envy them. As I understand it, even the improvements alone would have to be spread out over time, because the money is not available all at once. There’s no perfect answer. I’d love to know other people’s thoughts about how the time line should proceed and which projects should need bonds. Post a comment!