Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Update on the facilities time line

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.


Michael Tilley said...

1. If someone is concerned about equity in the district, one of the chief inequities is when burdens are not distributed evenly. The plan seems to a put a substantial burden on the Hoover attendance area that is completely disproportionate to the burden placed on other attendance areas, and the benefits for the area are significantly smaller than the benefits for other areas.

2. I suspect that the explanation for the Hoover redistricting decision in 2016 with no other redistricting is that the lines will be draw for the 2015 year and won't take effect for the Hoover community until 2016. That's the only way I could make sense of that.

3. I suspect the *real* (read: cynical) reason that Hoover is a swing school is two-fold: (a) it is intended to eliminate a significant opposition group to the upcoming bond proposal, and (b) it will force kids/parents who will be "swung" to Hoover to find their own transportation, since they are mostly within two miles of Hoover, and many are not within two miles of the new South Elementary School. So, politics and busing reasons, I suspect.

Chris said...

Michael -- Yes, I agree.

I'm curious to learn what they are allowed to do with bonds. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that voters could be asked to bond multiple projects at once. But I had always heard that general obligation bonds required that the money be spent fairly soon (within two years?). The one-shot bond that Murley is proposing would fund projects many years out. I just don't know enough to know whether that is permissible, and whether it would mean that we're paying interest in the meantime.

If we can use a bond to fund projects that are many years off, then why not vote on the whole bond ASAP? Then we'd know whether the voters are willing to approve the new capacity *before* we close an existing school. But Murley's plan is the one the board would choose if it wanted to force its ideas on the public, not if it wanted to let public input to drive the plan.

KD said...

Wow, that is quite a bit to digest.

I'm not sure I completely understand the plan fully, but that looks like a lot of shuffling around and uncertainty for many families.

I'm not sure how long people have been paying attention to the redistricting debate. Back when Lane Plugge was here he proposed many scenarios to deal with excess capacity at the high school level and eventually transition to a third high school. These were rejected because they they were considered to disruptive and they didn't give one group what they wanted...a new high school without any growing pains.

But yet we would think it would be a good idea to do this to elementary school age kids? It would seem to me the families potentially affected by such a plan should have multiple opportunities to have their voice heard. I'm not sure if I understand the level of disruption being proposed, but it seems like it would potentially affect hundreds of families?

Regarding the bond issue....the plan doesn't seem very good as proposed. I'll have one kid done with the school district by then, and I'm not sure how much good will I'll have as a voter by then. I do find it very frustrating that the board and administration can't simultaneously deal with issues like construction and growth, while at the same time finding a way to be concerned about what actually is going on in the classrooms.

I took a walk around the entire City High campus recently. Many people will say that City High has no room to build, but I disagree with that. Taking a walk around the campus only confirmed that. There are certainly areas where the construction could happen in an upwards fashion instead of out. There should be no Hoover school closure if the Board and superintendent can't answer how that property would be used......I'm surprised more people don't find that strange.

Anonymous said...

KD - I think the concern is the lack of parking and athletic fields for the number of students that exist today and in the future.

KD said...

@Anonymous....they haven't clearly shown why Hoover would be needed for those purposes, though, as opposed to making do with City as it is now? There is certainly room to additional things with the City High Campus as it currently exists.

Are you talking about extra athletic fields, or merely the possibility of having to move athletic fields for addition building space etc.?

Shouldn't there be a well thought out plan for the Hoover school land, before we decide to close it.

If you are suggesting extra athletic fields are needed, I'm not sure about that. I don't think West has proportionately more athletic fields given they have more students.