Sunday, July 21, 2013

Will the board close an elementary school without public support?

There are a lot of persuasive objections to our school district’s proposed overbuilding, overspending scheme long-term facilities plan, but the most striking one, to me, is that the proposal is so contrary to the public input that the board repeatedly solicited during the process. In the long run, how much does the school board think it can achieve without public support?

Whenever I raise the issue of “public support,” I hear the same response: the board can’t please everyone. That’s a non-sequitur, because acting with public support doesn’t mean pleasing everyone. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be loud voices opposing whatever the board decides. It means acting in a way that’s consistent with the values of most people in the community.

There is every reason to believe that most people in this community do not see any need to close existing schools. The district held several lengthy community workshops designed to educate voters about the issues involved, and the prevailing sentiment among participants at all the workshops was not to close schools. At the final, largest workshop, 63% favored plans that did not close Hoover School, even when people were asked how they would change their favorite plan. In the district’s telephone survey of randomly sampled registered voters, 63.8% said smaller schools should not be closed to gain long-term cost savings; 26.2% favored closing them. (The question referred to schools “that enroll less than 300 students,” which doesn’t even include Hoover, which is now on the chopping block.) If none of that convinces you, ask yourself why none of the board members even mentioned the possibility of closing schools during their campaigns. Is there any better indicator that the idea lacks public support?

Keep in mind that the proposed plan will need additional bonding to be implemented – to the apparent tune of about a hundred million dollars – and that any new bonding will need to get 60% approval at a public vote. The recent Revenue Purpose Statement, which enabled some borrowing against future revenues, received only 56% approval at the polls, and that was before anyone suggested that it would result in school closings. How does the board think its plan can ever become a reality if it alienates even more of the public?

I suspect that if the plan passes, the same people who ignored public sentiment to pass it will argue that the public has a responsibility to “come together” and move forward with it. Call me crazy, but I think that if people don’t like a decision made by the school board, they should use the democratic process to try to change that decision.


Anonymous said...

"There is every reason to believe that most people in this community do not see any need to close existing schools."
A non-sequitur indeed.
Who are "most people"? If you mean those that attend your meetings and vote on school issues, your community appears to be a very very small portion of the population.
Your blog features, including comment moderation, show that the democratic process is alive and well.
From a law professor, no doubt.

Chris said...

Anonymous -- How about "most people" who vote in school board elections? If closing schools is so popular, why have board candidates avoided mentioning it like the plague?

Without comment moderation, the comments section would be filled with spam. If you have any reason to think that I've excluded comments that disagree with me, a quick look through prior posts will prove you wrong. And of course, it's a free country. Anyone can start a blog, even anonymous people.

Chris said...

And I should add: I'd be happy to see the long-term facilities plan put up for a public referendum. Would you?