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Response to the Park City School District’s Guest Editorial

The Park City School Board wrote a Guest Editorial to the Park Record on Saturday. I’m glad they are getting information out. However, I also believe we should be receiving an accurate message from the board. It has become obvious that the School Board desperately desires sweeping changes to our district. They have invested significant time and effort in this endeavor. Any time that happens there are incentives to push forward, whether it makes sense or not.

I have attended the Master Planning Committee meetings since January with a critical eye. That gives me a little different perspective on each of the issues. With that in mind, here are some thoughts (in blue) on each of the board’s statements:

We, the Park City School Board, appreciate the public input we have received in response to the current and future growth of our school district. Our Master Planning Advisory Committee has been meeting for nearly a year to determine a road map for district facilities. Our goal is to build facilities that help realize our vision of innovation and excellence in education. Done properly, and with the community’s support, we believe that Park City can become a top public school district on a national basis.

Most of us have the same goal. We want our schools to provide a quality education for our students. Yet, many of us don’t equate buildings with the quality of education.

Our process is open and transparent. We have held more than 30 public meetings with more than 500 participants from all over the district, while having weekly media coverage on the process.

I always worry when people point out that a process has been open and transparent. It’s usually because they are worried about whether they actually WERE open and transparent. That said, with a few exceptions, this process has been open. Any citizen could attend almost any meeting they wanted. That’s great and what, frankly, we as citizens should expect from all of our government organizations.

Keep in mind, though, that while there may have been 30 public meetings, don’t confuse what happened here with 30 largely attended meetings where the public could provide feedback that caused the the Master Planning Committee to tweak concepts throughout the whole process. There were a handful of community meetings where input was taken but “30” overstates things a bit.

The final master plan will reflect our students’ needs only, with the price tag largely driven by the growth of the district-resident student population. The final recommendation and plan will consider community ideas as well as input from City, County and UDOT experts on traffic impacts. It will consider carefully future growth scenarios. Ultimately, we believe the community will support a direction that puts the educational and safety needs of our children first.

Safety needs? Not sure where that came from. I suppose it sounds good.

As the final plan impacts all PCSD residents, we would like to set straight a few facts about the plan and the planning process:

1. Capacity – As capacity is the biggest driver for building new schools, the public should know that PCSD follows the same state capacity formulas that Utah’s other districts follow.

According to state public policy, our schools are full or almost full. Trailside will have trailers to accommodate students in the 2015-16 school year and Parleys Park may have trailers, depending on final enrollment. Our high school is also full. It is our responsibility to provide suitable space for our students.

This is a little bit of a tough issue to get one’s head around. What I learned through the Master Planning process is that the state has formulas for maximum capacity of our buildings. Yet, the maximum capacity is also driven off of how the school district declares square footage (and for what uses). Then there is the “threshold” amount, which is 90% of the maximum capacity. This threshold number is used for open enrollment which means that once you declare your school at 90% of maximum capacity (the threshold) you no longer have to take out of district students. Take a look at the following image and you’ll get an idea where our schools stand:


Yet, after I posted earlier information about these thresholds, a reader wrote in and asked, “Where did you get 1200 capacity [for the high school]? The master planning doc from 2011 lists PCHS capacity as 1500.” In my mind, that represents the real problem with talks about capacity. What is the real capacity? Has the district set a capacity that is artificially low in order to influence the public with regard to a bond? Have they set a capacity that is artificially low in order to reduce out of district students from attending our high school. Was the number in 2011 wrong? I don’t know. It comes down to trust of the district… and per my previous article on that, you likely know where I stand on that topic.

I also look at all the populations in elementary schools, which is somewhat the catalyst for this plan, and I wonder why they couldn’t just redo the boundaries to fit all day kindergarten in our schools? If you do that, then you are left with deciding whether you just want to rebuild Treasure Mountain Junior High. It’s a much simpler question to get your head around.

Finally, there has been a lot of talk of a bubble of extra students moving through our district. This is temporary. So, we may be building to account for a temporary problem. If you look at the school districts estimates in our elementary schools, after these changes, utilization is low in our elementary schools. This means that our schools will easily be open to outside enrollment, where our district loses a lot of money on each student. With Silver Creek Village and its 1300 units coming online (which are in the South Summit School District) it becomes easy to see that many of these kids would rather go across the street to Trailside than to Kamas or Heber. Thus, our tax dollars are spent outside the district.


2. Opportunity for All Students – There is strong evidence that early education provides an opportunity to assist our most at-risk students to become proficient by grade 3, if it is provided. PCSD has stated that closing the achievement gap is a priority and; therefore, we need to provide room for expanded Pre-K and all day Kindergarten.

Again, it may be possible to change boundaries in order to accommodate this. If that’s not possible, it is likely less expensive to add on to Trailside and Parley’s Park (if necessary). 

3. Building Locations – Scheme 3 was the overwhelmingly preferred option at our community open planning workshops. There were many notations on the plan, which we’ve incorporated into the final draft.

Again, “overwhelmingly preferred option” overstates things. There were 15 votes for “Scheme 3”. I think it is also important to actually understand what these community meetings were and were not.

Meeting 1: The Planner basically showed a slide show of updated AWESOME schools for about an hour and a half. The attendees were “Educated” on what features a new school has. There was about a 15 minute interactive session at the end where people provided input on the “ideal Park City learning environment.” The top answers were personalized learning, engaged learning, and interested learning.

Meeting 2: Attendees of the second meeting broke into groups and made a wish list of what buildings should go where on a map. Effectively they had a whole bunch of cutouts of buildings and put them on a map.

Meeting 3: The planner has taken the ideas from meeting 2 and made them into various “schemes.” Attendees then met and made comments on each of the schemes. This is where scheme 3 became the most popular.

My issues with these three meetings is that the process was effectively led down a hallway, with no doors. The meetings began with a process designed to get community members excited about building new things. Then a map, with preconceived ideas was placed before participants. Meanwhile, School District Master Planning Committee members sat at each table with community members, often guiding the discussion about what should be done. When a community member asked about cost during Meeting 2, because the process seemed pie in the sky, they were told costs would be discussed in meeting 3. They never were. Then we are told “Scheme 3” won, but that was with 15 total votes.

I think what many people think happened was that a group of community members got together, had a free flow of ideas, and then came up with what they thought was best for our community and students. What really happened, seems very different from that (in my opinion).

4. Bussing – All PCSD students currently attend school at the Ecker campus for 6/7th grades. Bussing reflects the geographic reality of our district; and students have been bussed for years. With a new 5/6 located at Ecker, students in town will ride the bus to Ecker for four years and students out of town will ride the bus to Park City High School for four years.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of kids will ride the bus from Park City to Ecker? that probably depends on how long it takes. If it’s anything like transit buses (in SLC), we will see about 6% of students ride. The rest of the kids will be driven to TMJH at Ecker Hill.

5. High School Expansion and Dozier Field Possible Move The Master Planning committee is considering several final alternatives for this necessary construction, including a western expansion that necessitates moving the current Dozier Field and a southward expansion that may cost more. Any expansion needs to make long-term educational and financial sense. We are also considering community and athletic preferences.

This one piqued my interest. The Master Planning Committee recommended no movement of Dosier Field. Why is moving it brought up here? Perhaps the school board wants to show that they can concede some things. Perhaps they are planning on going against the committee’s recommendation and are setting the stage. 

6.Property Values While our goal is innovation and excellence in education and private property values are out of our jurisdiction, we believe it would be difficult or impossible to find an example of a top school district anywhere in the country where property values have not gone up as schools continued to improve.

This is an interesting statement. It is true that research has shown that schools that score higher on standardized tests increase the property values of homes near those schools. Say you were looking to live in the Salt Lake area, you may choose to live in Provo because they have the best high school in the state. Now consider Park City. Right now Park City Schools do well on reading standardized tests. With math and science, the jury is still out. Let’s say we move from 55% competency in math to 75% competency. Does that impact home values here or is it the economy and whether second home owners can afford to pay more to be closer to PCMR? I think at a macro level, Park City schools are considered good (whether because of all the options available, because of better teachers, or its just the prevailing thought). So, does upgrading our schools actually correlate to increased property values. I have a hard time believing that.

Now let’s address the real concerns at hand. People during Master Planning Meetings were concerned with changes proposed at the Kearns campus. They felt the increased traffic, sound, lights, etc. of a “decked out” campus may decrease their property values in Park Meadows and Prospector. If you think about it, the concern is logical. Do you want to live around the carnival or would you rather live in Trailside, Pinebrook, Jeremy, or Silver Creek? It’s not that somehow Park City schools are going to cause the Park City area’s home values to decrease as a whole. It’s that home values could be impacted in some areas (Park Meadows and Prospector) due to these decisions. It’s a different, but important distinction.

Growth and change in our district creates concern and angst for some, but long-term population growth is our reality. There are many considerations for our district and we invite the public to continue to provide input and ask questions as our community moves forward to meet all of our student needs.

We understand that planning for the future requires a significant monetary investment, but also know that ignoring or not planning for growth will end up costing our community much more financially, and will result in a lack of quality learning environments for our students.

We all want what is best for our students. Yet, we also want our leaders to be make good choices with our money. Money that is spent today, may not be available tomorrow. That isn’t a concern as long as our community has both the means and commitment to continually fund increased costs and taxes year after year for schools. Whether we are close to that point or not is a point of debate. It will likely play itself out over the course of the next few years as the bond for this effort goes to the public and the school district needs an extra infusion of money to keep its “rainy day fund” above water.


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