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Park City School Superintendent Mentions the “B” Word

During today’s KPCW Local News Hour Leslie Thatcher was asking School Superintendent Ember Conley about this week’s school board meeting. Talk shifted to the “Master Planing Committee” that has been meeting every two weeks to prioritize school district construction. This committee seems to have taken on increased importance since the PC CAPS building was placed on hold last month. The exchange went:

Dr Ember Conley (Park City School District): “We are looking at possibly having someone come in and advise us and get a plan in place for the board.”

Leslie Thatcher (KPCW): “Because that [Plan] would start this summer?”

Dr Ember Conley: “It would, actually we would probably not be able to start this summer. We would probably be needing to going out for a BOND. And as you do that, it takes lots of community input, whether it is Treasure Mountain, [or] we look at our elementary needs… and so far what we are seeing is both secondary and elementary building needs.”

So, back in October we guessed we’d soon start hearing about the need for a bond for rebuilding Treasure Mountain Junior High School. At the time we thought the board would approve building a new PC CAPS building and then push for a bond for Treasure Mountain next spring. It appears now they may have sacrificed the PC CAPS building for an elementary school building instead.

The school district has started to lay the foundation for a new bond. You’ll notice, the tone from the above quote wasn’t about whether we needed new buildings and whether there was public support. The tone was that we definitely have needs for a new junior high school and likely elementary school upgrades, as well. The quote also indicated that they will need community support for this. However, it wasn’t “we’ll have to see if the community wants this”; instead it was “we’ll need community support for this.” There is a difference.

So, the following is how we see this developing. The school district has mentioned the “B” word. They will continue to mention it from time to time, to make sure it seems like a given. You’ll start to hear more about how bad of shape Treasure Mountain Junior High School is in. You’ll wonder how any students can even attend that school. Our guess is it will be a front-page, Saturday morning article in the Park Record. Outside consultants will be hired to provide proof  and concur with the powers that be that we need to do something about the school. You’ll then hear that it will “probably cost about as much” to renovate the school as build a new school. You’ll also hear an incessant question about Jeremy Ranch elementary. Do you want an elementary school with 800 students in it? Do you want an elementary school with 800 students in it? Do you want an elementary school with 800 students in it? Next summer, Park City School District will then file to put the bond measure on a ballot for next November for two new schools (or perhaps one, if it’s easier to say “hey look we compromised by only going for one school”). As the election draws nearer, lot’s of people associated with the district (tightly or loosely) will be on the radio talking about the need for the bond. You’ll start seeing lawn signs in October, likely sponsored by a group with a name like “Park City Parents for Kids and Schools”. It will probably be funded from a group like the Park City Education Foundation. Then in early November the $50 million bond will pass by 40%.

Now, that’s democracy.

Really, we don’t know where we stand on the bond because we don’t know the details. That’s not surprising either, since it’s still at the “glimmer in a mother’s eye” stage. However, we’ve seen this play out too many times, to not have at least an educated guess about the playbook that will be used. There very well may be a need for 5 new schools in Park City. If so, then great. However please don’t use the same tired (although we grant successful) tactics against the community.

Instead, please do three simple things:

  1. Tell us why this benefits the community in cold, hard facts. We want the same approach that is advocated in Professional Learning Communities (the teaching approach being used by the schools). We want data driven statistics that supports a $50 million investment in new buildings and specifically what students, parents, teachers, and Park City residents with no children get out of this.
  2. Explain your plan to keep these new schools closed to outside enrollment. From the outside looking in, Park City School are like a gas molecule. Any space will be filled. So please specifically explain how outside enrollment will be curtailed. If not, its seems Park City property owners will be paying $300 more per year, so a kid from Salt Lake can benefit from our schools.
  3. Promise that by the time these buildings are completed you will have equalized the standardized scores between low-income/hispanic kids and caucasian kids in our schools. Frankly the discrepancy between the groups is embarrassing not only for people involved in the school system (teachers, administrators, etc.) but for those of us who live here. If we build a temple to the education gods in the form of a brand new shiny building but still sacrifice this ever growing population on its alter, its a travesty. We know that the money used for building comes from different sources than that used for educating, but we can’t stop thinking that if only 10% of the money, that will be put into a new bond, was used to help these students, the outcome would likely be superior.

So, the game is afoot. The word bond has been mentioned and we begin the 11 month journey that we have gone through so many times. Will it be different this time? Will the school district apply the same lessons to this process that its trying to teach our children or will it rely on simple marketing? It should be interesting to watch.

Note: We say the bond will be $50 million. That is just a guess. An estimate to rebuild Treasure Mountain came in at $28 million. If there is a second school proposed, we could see hitting $50 million pretty easily.





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