On Tuesday evening, the Project for Deeper Understanding held a debate about the proposed Park City School District Bond. Here are some thoughts from the evening:
- Dr John Hanrahan did a great job of moderating the debate. He asked good questions. One of the hardest parts of moderating session like this is asking pointed questions that will be answered by parties on both sides. He did a good job of phrasing questions so they could be answered by all participants.
- I was a little surprised by the makeup of the crowd, as it was much older than I expected. If the average age of those who turnout for the election matches what we saw at the debate, the pro-bond people may be in trouble.
- I’m not sure if the Project for Deeper Understanding changed the debate format due to concerns over there being 4 people for the bond (2 school board members plus two citizens) vs 2 people opposed to the bond, but I think the way it turned out worked well. The way they structured it was to have the school board provide opening remarks and then sit in the audience. Then the debate was “2 on 2.” This was much better than allowing the board members to answer every question (in my opinion). If the board members would have been onstage to answer questions, it would have given the pro-bond folks a decided advantage.
- Former school board member Moe Hickey did a great job of presenting the pro-bond side. You can agree with Mr Hickey, or not, but his experience is evident. When he said that his opinion was that the 5/6 school should be built at the school district’s Bear Hollow site (but the consensus was that it should be at Ecker Hill), it lended even more credibility to his arguments. No dig against the current school board members but I think they are going to miss his presence on the board for the foreseeable future.
- The anti-bond group chose a good tactical route when they said they weren’t against a bond (or paying for schools), they were just against this plan. That enabled them to attack specific aspects of the plan and not appear like they were against schools, teachers, or children.
- The pro-bond group missed a good opportunity to counter criticism about the athletic portion of the bond, and strengthen their argument when a member of the public stated that she cared about education and wondered what parts of the bond were targeted at education. Mr Hickey directed everyone to write the state legislature about more funding for schools. Ms. Hoggan quickly said that all day Kindergarten would help get challenged kids on track faster and then spent 90% of her time speaking about the Park City Educational Foundation. It was a missed opportunity.
- The pro-bond group did a good job of pointing out that what some people want, two middle schools (one on each side of the area), could cost twice as much to build, and would lead an increased number of employees and thus even additional cost.
- Ms. Ziesler did a good job of coming back to the argument of “real world aspects” of this plan. She spoke about the problems of having 1700 5th-8th graders at Ecker Hill, the extra traffic in the area from before/after school activities, and requiring young children to leave their neighborhoods.
- Ms. Hoggan brought up a good point that the community still has the opportunity to contribute to this plan because it is not in stone and there are many design teams that will touch almost every aspect of the plan.
- It was interesting that all questions during the hour allotted to public comment/questions appeared to be against the bond. There was no one that stood up and said, “I like this plan.” Perhaps that is to be expected in this sort of environment but I was a little surprised. Even during the Ski Link Project for Deeper Understanding debate there were a few people in favor of Ski Link.
- One member of the public was very confrontational and aggressive toward Mr. Hickey with his questions. Mr Hickey did an admirable job of keeping his cool and genuinely tried to answer the gentleman’s questions.
- The pro-bond group answered a question about the field house costing $12 million. They corrected the person asking the question and said the field house was only about $5-$6 million of the $12 million in athletic upgrades. That’s interesting because I remember being in a Master Planning Committee meeting and a committee member asked VCBO, the planning company, about the costs of a field house. I believe they said for $5 million you get a pre fabricated metal barn and that we’d likely need to spend at least $11 million to get a very basic building that would look OK on Kearns. I sure hope that if they are going to build a field house that both costs are being estimated correctly and they have allocated enough money.
- Ms Ziesler made a good point that the high school was already designed for expansion, and could accommodate 20,000 additional square feet of space, which would be enough to house the addition of the 9th graders. She pointed out this would be $4 million versus the $25 million remodel planned.
- A citizen asked a “gotcha” question of Mr Hickey. The citizen said that VCBO (the planners) had said that to pass a bond, there needed to be an athletic component. Mr. Hickey did a good job of handling that and said VCBO would likely say something like that and that athletics had been part of the discussions for a long time. Instead of shying away from the argument, he met it head on and rebutted it nicely.
- There was a moment during the evening that felt a little “dirty.” A citizen stated that he hoped the school board would hire a good construction manager to oversee the project so we didn’t have cost overruns like we did during the last high school remodel. The moderator directed the question to School Board member Phil Kaplan and asked, “Have there been discussions about a construction manager?” Mr Kaplan responded that they were in the process of hiring a construction manager. Mr Cronley retorted that the board was already seeing cost overruns so they were resorting to using a person from the school district that may not have the requisite experience. The moderator then asked Phil Kaplan, “Is that true Phil?” Mr Kaplan responded that it is correct that they were looking at hiring a person who is currently on staff but that does have experience. Wile I suppose Mr Kaplan’s answer is true, it doesn’t capture the reality of the circumstances. The School Board appears to want to promote a facilities manager who has construction experience and then hire a contractor to assist the facilities manager with things like estimating costs. This bears watching.
If you have a few minutes, I would encourage you to read the live blog from the debate. It can provide a lot more detail about everyone’s arguments, and if you are still undecided about how to vote, you may find some clarity there.