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.