Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Don’t bet against Hoover School

Another odd-numbered year, another school board election. As this September’s board election approaches, I’ll be one of the people continuing to question the wisdom of the current plan to close Hoover Elementary in 2019 as part of the district’s long-term facilities plan. I’ll be posting more soon to re-examine some of the arguments for and against the closure. In the meantime, though, I thought I’d write this quick, admittedly horse-race-style post about the prospects for reversing the closure. In short, if I were a betting person, I wouldn’t bet against Hoover staying open in the long run, for these reasons:

  • Of the six board members who supported closing Hoover, only three now remain on the board. All three of those seats are up for election this year. It’s not clear whether any of those three board members will run for re-election. (I’m counting incumbent Marla Swesey as pro-closure; though she switched her vote on it at the last minute, she later made it clear that she supports the closure and is against revisiting the decision.)

  • In the last board election, the one incumbent who supported the closure was defeated. The two top vote-getters supported keeping Hoover open, and 65% of the total votes cast went to pro-Hoover candidates.

  • Every time the district has surveyed the public about the possibility of school closings—whether in the district’s randomized phone survey or in the multiple community workshops during the facilities plan process—the result has been roughly two-to-one opposition to closings.

  • The Save Hoover group, through its petition and yard sign efforts, now has a list of nearly a thousand identified supporters of keeping Hoover open. That’s not only a sign of public support, but a great organizing tool as Save Hoover approaches the election season.

  • Voters in other parts of the district have good reason to make common cause with Hoover. No matter how you slice it, closing Hoover costs a lot of money. The district will have to spend millions to build new capacity—for example, by building additions to existing schools—to accommodate the students who currently go to Hoover. That money could just as easily be used to add seats in parts of the district that have real capacity needs. (More on this point in future posts.) Moreover, voters in other attendance areas are likely to wonder whether the logic behind closing Hoover will lead the district to close other elementaries, too.

  • Looming over the facilities plan is the eventual need to ask the voters for a $100+ million dollar bond, which would need 60% voter approval to pass. The district just can’t afford to alienate a large bloc of voters going into that bond vote.

Like on a lot of issues, what you hear from school officials and administrators about Hoover is very different from what you hear from ordinary voters. There are definitely people who would like you to think that the Hoover decision is set in stone, but that’s the kind of bravado that can evaporate overnight when election results come in. I think there’s a good chance it will.

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