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4 Reasons Why the Park City School Bond Failed

When the tale of the 2015 Park City School Bond is finally written, the conclusions may be different. However, sitting here on the morning after the stunning defeat of the Park City School Bond, there are at least four reasons why the bond failed.

1. School Board Plans Were Not Specific Enough

When the public is asked to spend $66 million on a plan, they generally like to know the details. In the case of the PCSD Bond, the specifics details were either yet to come or came very late. What would Ecker Hill look like with 1700 students? What would the design of the athletic facilities be on Kearns? How would traffic be mitigated? Was there going to be a field house? Would the field house be shared with Basin Rec or the city? This was even evident during an August 11th school board meeting (a week after the School Board took a straw poll stating they would likely vote for the bond) where members were debating what to include in the bond.

While no one expects every detail to be worked out beforehand, the lack of specifics on key points made it difficult for the public to get behind the bond.

2. Every Election is “Local”

They say every election is local, and in the case of the school bond, it was hyperlocal. The school bond had components that either angered or gave pause to many groups within the district. Some people in town didn’t like the idea of the middle school leaving the city limits. Some people in the Basin didn’t look forward to the traffic caused by 1700 students at Ecker. Some people didn’t like the idea of their little 5th graders mingling with 8th graders (despite the arguments that it would never happen). Some people thought their money was being wasted on athletics. There’s was something to dislike in the proposal for almost everyone.

The problem was that there wasn’t something for everyone to get passionately behind. Better athletic facilities? Bringing our schools up to date? Improving our dual immersion program? Better test scores for certain groups? Additional space for growth that either isn’t coming or seems to have paused?

The school board gave almost everyone a reason to vote against the bond but didn’t counter that by providing better reasons to vote for it.

3. Bad Messaging From the Pro-Bond People

George Bernard Shaw said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” I think that sums up the problem the pro bond group had. Even in defeat, Moe Hickey, one of the leaders of the pro bond group, said that he felt voters just didn’t understand. Yet, making voters understand was the job of the pro bond group and the school board, and they just didn’t do it.

Too often when someone would present an argument against the bond, the response would be, “you need to read the school board FAQ because you just don’t understand.” At 3,700 words the school board FAQ was probably more than most people wanted to consume. It would be like a student asking a teacher about Napoleon’s invasion of Russia and the teacher handing the kid War and Peace. Instead specific answers would have helped many people. In the end, I believe the school board tried but it was too little, too late.

Likewise, when Park Meadows residents were concerned with moving Dosier Field because of lights and sound impacts, they were demonized as NIMBY’S (Not in My Backyard) by some people who were for the bond. That’s not exactly the best way to endear a large segment of the voting population.

When people questioned anything about the bond, they were told that the decision had already been made and people were just voting on how to pay for it. Do people not realize how condescending that sounds? That combined with the “threat” of levying a tax if the bond failed made many people say ENOUGH!

Finally, the messaging seemed completely inauthentic and manufactured. I received so many emails and read so many posts, that were pro bond, that came from different people, that were almost identical. It must be like a politician receiving a thousand form letters on a topic. I think the citizens of the Park City area respect independent thought. The fact that their friend Sally is going to vote for something doesn’t matter as much as why Sally is personally going to vote for something. If what Sally offers up is identical to 5 other things a person has read, at best it becomes noise. At worst it becomes annoying. In many cases, that line was crossed.

4. The School Board Hung on Too Tightly

Hold on loosely
But don’t let go 
If you cling too tightly
You’re going to lose control

How often do you get to quote .38 Special in a political piece? However, I can’t think of any better words to describe the school board’s actions. I believe the school board wanted this bond too much. When opposition formed to idea, they pushed harder. When it didn’t go away, they dug in. When all they started hearing from the public was negativity, they squeezed it to death. The board never should have pulled students out of Ecker Hill Social Studies classes to talk about the bond. I know they told us it was in response to requests from teachers, but I think many people thought it was a veiled attempt to gain more support (regardless of whether someone said “tell your parents to vote yes”). They gave people another reason to vote no.

They never should have produced the bond video that was disseminated to students across the district. If the intention was purely educational, there was plenty of time to send that video out after they won. Instead, one bad phrase was uttered on the video, investigations started, and two school board members pictures from the video were splashed on the front of the Park Record, like a mug shot.

The only conclusion I can draw is that the school board wanted it too bad. If there is one thing most of us learned from high school is that you never get the girl by suffocating her and that the girl rarely gets the guy when she tries too hard.

I do believe the outcome for the bond could have been different with a little more time. It looks like they’ll get that time, now. Hopefully during the next go around they approach things a little differently… and won’t feel like they need to try as hard.

Comments

5 Comments

Walt Wehner

Agree with almost all of that. The problem going forward is that, given the complexity of some of the issues with the schools, I think this probably means large/comprehensive plans can’t be executed for the indefinite future. The school board is going to run into vocal minority opposition to various aspects of any comprehensive proposal that will add up to defeat – so it will probably have to be more of a piecemeal (and slower) approach. That might actually end up being the same end result, of course.

The other lesson I draw here (as a personal friend of a school board member) is that the school board now have to consider themselves politicians and act accordingly. They really did not approach this process in that way and honestly if I were on the board, I would consider simply resigning – it is clear that they have lost the trust of the public, deservedly or not. I’m not sure what to think about that but hopefully we’ll get a lot of good positive input from the anti-bond voters going forward so that the schools can be funded as they deserve to be.

Given the enrollment of the district, it’s clear that maybe 50% (at best) of parents even voted. Maybe this will be a wake up call to be more involved.

Meg Leaf

Yours is an astute line-up of reasons the bond failed. I wholly agree.

Walt has a point in that more public involvement is key moving forward. There will likely be micro-local opposition to each project that impacts a neighborhood or to-from traffic around Park City’s critical intersections. That said, those voices should contribute to and mingle with a more thorough investigation of project options, opening the door to collaboration and compromise. I would urge all contributors in future public meetings to do homework and bring soluble ideas to the table.

The tax levy process should not be based in fear, as it is a formal governmental process that includes requirements for detailed information, formal public hearings, and limitations on each financial request. It will help us, as a district, move forward more deliberatively. I see no harm in that.

I look forward to an engaging process where the ultimate goal is to provide sound solutions for student body growth and community cohesiveness.

Partnering the capital needs, we ought to be reviewing our educational programs with heavily weighted input from teachers who know their students, our children, and their capabilities. We might consider:

– making adjustments to the testing requirements imposed upon students,
– continuing our reading and ESL programs to include the expertise of our well-trained/educated teachers and aides,
– prolonging the life of programs that work for both teachers and students in order to improve consistency, acquire a deeper understanding, and achieve the most effective implementation possible,
– giving the reins to teachers who wish to implement good educational ideas that will achieve better results in learning on an ‘as needed’ basis,
– fully vetting programs that have widespread impact and tentacles, such as the dual immersion program, prior to implementation and with long-term planning in place from the start.

These are but a few ideas. Hopefully, many more ideas will come down the pipeline for consideration, be funneled through all the necessary project steps, and eventually produce an educational district to be reckoned with on a national scale. : )

Thank you.

Erma Gerd

I saw a lot of “I don’t like the plan” and “there needs to be a better plan.” I would really like to see everyone who said that be involved in coming up with said better plan. One that works for Pre-K through 12th grade for the entire community. It’s one thing to say “I don’t like the plan”, it’s another thing altogether to come up with a viable, fiscally-responsible alternative plan.

While Meg makes some very good suggestions about programming needs, the bond was about facilities needs, and money for facilities cannot be spent on programming. And if you don’t have the proper facilities, it is difficult to put the proper programming in place. I know we could educate our children in a field, as someone has said, but why would anyone choose to do so in Park City?

Walt Wehner

The really interesting thing will be to see how many of the no voters are genuinely interested in a different/better plan, and how many just had a specific axe to grind and/or would have voted no on anything. We’ll see how many of the prominent No folks show up to meetings on these topics going forward. If they aren’t there…

The school board *did* do a lot of work on this proposal and did a ton of consulting of both outside and PCSD experts, as well as gathering a ton of community input and doing some pretty extensive surveying, so I have a fairly hard time imagining the end result would be drastically different if they started over from scratch. I guess you never know.

The good thing here is that with the low enrollment numbers for this year, we’ve got some breathing room regardless.

Meg

I’m going to put my money where my mouth is. I’m already on two PTO groups and volunteering at two schools and reading minutes. However, I am not one of the do nothing folks of whom you speak and I take no offense to that concept at all. Among the 3000+ No voters, I do know a number of them are trying to be part of the solution, including me. My conversations with some of the No voters (of course I had many conversations with Yes voters…I commune with all) revealed a true concern about the athletic portion of the bond. The destruction of Dozier field and installation of a grand athletic facility on the Treasure Mountain site truly had some folks upset, especially given the quick switch that occurred in planning just before the vote to go to bond. I hope to work with as many people as I can to take the best part of the work the Board members did and arrive at a solution the community can wrap their heads around, that puts Park City in a good position for the long-term future (as long-term as can be predicted and built). Please take no offense to the 3000+ people. Take heart that some of us will work toward a destination for all to embrace. That is the goal.


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