The superintendent presented his proposed time line for the projects in the facilities master plan tonight. Until it is approved by the board, it remains just a proposal. The board is scheduled to consider and possibly vote on the plan at its November 12 meeting.
The full presentation is here. There is much more in the plan than I can possibly absorb tonight, but here are a few quick thoughts.
1. The superintendent proposed that Hoover’s attendance area be eliminated as of the fall of 2016 – a year sooner than the board had permitted. As far as I could tell, this was the only aspect of his entire proposal that departed from what the board approved in July (other than an inadvertent omission of an elementary school addition). Hoover would then be used for five years as a “swing school” to accommodate students from elsewhere whose schools were being renovated. Then, after the 2020-21 year, it would be torn down.
2. Under the superintendent’s proposal, the district would ask voters to approve a $119 million bond in 2017 – as I understand it, all at once. This means Hoover’s attendance area would already have been eliminated before we know whether voters will approve the bond that will fund the new capacity. As a strategy for preventing the Hoover closure from being an issue in the bond vote, this is understandable (though cynical). But if the bond is not approved, the district may not be able to build the capacity it is counting on to make up for the loss of Hoover, and may wish that it had kept Hoover open. This is a good reason to put off the closure until after the bond vote, rather than accelerate it.
3. The superintendent’s proposal eliminates Hoover’s attendance area as of 2016, but does not redraw any other school’s attendance areas at that time. How is that possible? The Hoover kids won’t just disappear.
4. The board’s initial plan was to use the newly built elementary school as the swing school, rather than Hoover. The superintendent proposed to use Hoover instead, since it is closer in size to the schools that need to be “swung.” I don’t understand that: under the plan, Longfellow and Mann will both be over 400 students; Lucas will hold 381, and Shimek will hold 339. The district claims that Hoover has a capacity of 304. How is it a suitable swing school for those schools?
If the answer is that those schools won’t be resized until after their stay at the swing school, why not, and how is that possible? Again, the 350+ Hoover kids will have to go somewhere, and will almost certainly be going to some of those schools, pushing up the number of kids who would then have to use the swing school.
5. How many times will Hoover kids be redistricted? Under this proposal, the first time would be in 2016. Just two years later, the schools where they will probably end up – Longfellow, Lemme, Mann, and Lucas, as well as Shimek – will be redistricted again. Two years after that, those same schools will be redistricted again! On top of that, some Hoover kids will have to move in and out of a swing school during that time. Under this proposal, woe to the kindergartner who starts Hoover next year.
6. The City High addition – which we were told repeatedly couldn’t happen without the closure of Hoover – would begin construction in 2015 and be completed by 2021. In other words, the entire addition would be built while Hoover is still up and running as a swing school. The superintendent said that this would be very uncomfortable until City could finally get the Hoover property – but when asked how the Hoover property would be used as a result of the addition, he said he didn’t know. The continued evasion on that question becomes more and more glaring as the rest of the plan is fleshed out in such fine detail.
7. We’re told, for the first time, that Hoover’s use as a swing school will cost $6.5 million – a number not included in the master plan.
8. The superintendent said that the Mann addition was scheduled relatively late to give the district more time to negotiate with the city over possibly expanding Mann’s (very small) lot. I assume this would mean taking some of North Market Park for the school. This strikes me as a potentially controversial proposal: what if it there’s no deal? By that time, the superintendent’s plan would already have closed Hoover; if Mann can’t be expanded, we’ll be short of capacity again.
9. My main reaction is that it would make more sense to find out whether the public will approve the necessary bonds for new capacity before discontinuing a school, and before starting any large projects that will need bonds to be completed; otherwise the district is counting its chickens before they’re hatched. It’s also just dismissive of the public to wait until the plan has already been half-executed before asking for approval of the bonds. Rather than risk trying to convince the public that the plan is a good one, the superintendent wants to wait until the public is over a barrel, with projects half-completed, and then ask for the money. Disappointing, though not surprising.
Not much time to blog for a week or two, but I’m looking forward to others’ commentary on the plan – will try to post links in the comments here.