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Does Your Vote For Or Against the Park City School Bond Matter?

Over the weekend, I received a number of emails regarding an interview on KPCW on Friday. KPCW’s Leslie Thatcher was interviewing Park City City Council member Tim Henney. Ms Thatcher asked Mr Henney about public comment received during Thursday’s meeting from citizen Bill Humbert. It appears Mr Humbert was concerned that Park City was participating with the School District in what was referred to as “bullying.” In this case, it appears the bullying charge is based around telling citizens that if they don’t pass a $55 million bond for rebuilding schools, the School Board will significantly raise taxes on citizens and go forward with their school-rebuilding plans anyhow.

During the interview Mr Henney responded to a question from Ms. Thatcher about Mr Humbert’s statement:

I think the frustration that Bill is experiencing has to do with an understanding of what’s being asked from the School Board with respect to the bond, and I think that Bill, maybe Bill does understand, but I’ve been asking and talking to people. They don’t seem to understand that the school board has gone from proposal to plan. They have made a decision. This is not a proposal, this bond. The bond is how do we pay for the the plan and not many people understand that and even on city tour I had numerous conversations with citizens who I believe represent vary engaged members of the community. They didn’t understand that. Maybe their is some misperception on Bill’s part on exactly what is being asked. This is not a referendum on the plan. It is how we pay for the plan.Tim Henney, Park City City Council Member

Effectively Mr Henney is saying that the school district is going to spend $65 million on schools, whether the people pass a bond or not and any vote is really just about how it will be paid for. When I heard this live on Friday, I didn’t quite believe it, but I also know that while Mr Henney is well connected, he does not officially speak for the school board. So, I reached out to a school board member for comment. Her response was:

Thank you for the opportunity to respond. We appreciate the public’s passion for our schools. Our building plan includes only pure needs, which is driven by the growth of our student population. We have published, in great detail, the plan and budget related to the construction bond. The Park City School Board put a bond proposition on the ballot because it is the least taxpayer impacting way to finance our growth. Thank you. Julie Eihausen Board of Education Member, Park City School District

The problem, from a citizen’s perspective, is that many of us view a bond election, regardless of what Mr Henney says, as a referendum on the idea. We have no other recourse. Some may argue that, in the case of the school initiative, citizens could have expressed their dissatisfaction throughout the process. Yet, you have to question whether it would have made any difference, since the school board didn’t even go with the recommendation from its own master planning committee.

Let’s look at some examples… for instance, say you were financially conservative and felt that only Treasure Mountain Junior High should have been rebuilt (for about $20 million) but disliked the rest of the plan, and you expressed that to the school board. Would it have made any difference? Perhaps you wanted to keep the middle school in the city boundaries (instead of moving it to Ecker) because you felt it made Park City a better place to live. Would they have listened to you and changed their minds? Wait, someone did make that argument — and no it doesn’t appear that was heard.

So what’s a citizen’s recourse when they had strong opinions, voiced them, and it made little difference?

You also have to account for the vast majority of our population who haven’t been following this at all. Sure, there have been editorials from school representative in the Park Record, but did they end a statement like, ” if you don’t like what you are reading right now, you better come tell us because once we make up our mind, you are going to pay for whatever we decide upon.”? Of course not.

Finally, we don’t even know what the specific plans are. The school district has formed subcommittees to discuss ideas like the changes to Kearns campus. This includes everything from which direction to expand the high school, to where the football field should be placed, to whether there should be a field house. Also, don’t forget the plans presented at an August 5th School Board meeting showed a PC CAPS addition to the high school. People vehemently fought a separate PC CAPS building last year. Is the PC CAPS area part of this plan? If not, why was it shown? If so, why didn’t the public have a chance to speak on it when apparently it was their only chance to provide an opinion?

I also think to previous bond offerings like the Basin Rec ‘s $25 million bond last year. Did they ever say anything, like “If the public votes this down, they aren’t voting against our idea, they are voting about financing. If they vote this down, we’ll just tax them instead.” No! That would sound crazy. I’m not sure why this school bond process doesn’t sound as crazy to most people. Perhaps it does.

The issue going forward, is that if all of our local governments view things this way (and it appears the schools and at least one member of the city does), you need to start fighting every bond initiative years out, even if you ultimately end up agreeing with the general concept (just to make sure you really have a say). Next year, there will likely be a transportation bond from Summit County on the ballot. You need to go to this week’s Summit County council meeting and tell them that you don’t want that transportation bond in 2016. They’ll look at you like you have two heads. They’ll say, “We don’t know that we are going to even have a bond or what’d even be in there. Aren’t you a little early?” You can respond that you still don’t know what is being planned for the school rebuilding, but that didn’t stop that plan from being passed. They’ll still look at you like your crazy.

Yet, it appears that’s what we the citizens have been reduced to, you’re crazy (and damned) if you do and you’re crazy (and damned) if you don’t. I still don’t know if it’s enough for a majority of the people to call the school district’s “bluff” and make them raise taxes for something that was voted down. I’d guess not. I still think the measure will pass, but we are definitely edging closer and closer to that line where people vote no, call the district’s buff, and press the reset button on this school rebuild.




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