On Friday, the Sheriff’s Department investigated the rock thrown through Park City School Superintendent Gildea’s window at her residence in Jeremy Ranch. It turns out there was no rock — just a crappy window that broke because it was cold in the mountains.
The Park Record reported that the most definitive sign that a rock didn’t break the window was that the outer pane of the window and the screen were not broken. So, unless this was a magic rock, something else happened.
The problem is that everyone treated this as fact. The Park Record reported it, the school district talked about it, the school board penned a letter scolding the community, and even we at the Park Rag wrote something. I’ll still stand by my take; activism is better than violence.
We understand how the Superintendent and her family could be freaked out based on a Salt Lake news station stalking her house, accompanied by the negativity on social media. That said, this urban myth caused a ripple effect across the community.
In the aftermath, we were hoping the school district would come out and say, “sorry, we made a mistake,” much like Backcountry.com did. Instead, we received a statement from the school district saying, “District leadership and Superintendent Gildea are understandably relieved that the negative social media comments did not escalate to negative actions toward the district-owned property. The Superintendent has appreciated the kindness (and) thoughtful gestures this week from students, staff, and community members.”
The real consequence of the district being so wrong and vocal is that people don’t know what to believe. I’ll provide a personal example. When I found that the district pushed the myth so hard, I didn’t think they were lying — and still don’t. I think it was a story that fit into a narrative that got out of control.
However, then I kept hearing that the district agreed to an additional $200,000 to make improvements to the property. This is actually where the recent public uproar over the property started. Then I started wondering if that was really true? Was that part of the original plan when the school board voted to buy the property on September 4, 2018? Was it agreed to later by the school board? Was it part of this year’s budget discussions and formally agreed upon? Where did it come from?
I hadn’t even considered the question until there was no rock.
Putting my time where my question was, I spent hours this weekend researching that. I watched the school board meeting from last September, where they voted 3-1 to approve the $870,000 purchase. There was no mention of an extra $200K approved.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that during that meeting, School Board member Petra Butler questioned her fellow board members on how they can buy a house without ever seeing it. She said none of them would personally ever do that with their own home. What? The board voted to spend over $800K of our money and never looked at the property. The response was that the district’s Business Manager had looked at the property with the district’s Facilities Manager. This would be like voting for a $65 million bond for new schools, never looking at the plan, then voting for it because someone said they should. But I digress…
During that conversation, they mentioned several times that they were only spending $870K. So, I don’t think there was approval for $870,000 plus $200,000. I never heard an OK for buying a $1,070,000 home. When the board approved this purchase, did they know they have a fixer-upper on their hands that would take 25% more money to make it livable — where even the windows shatter when it gets cold? Maybe, but I never saw it.
Then I went through the agenda of every board meeting since the purchase. Again, I could find nothing. Maybe I missed it, and perhaps the board talked about how the house needs a lot more work than they thought, and then they approved the extra $200K. However, not finding it, I continued to look at this year’s budget.
I started by watching the budget presentation done in May. It was extremely informative but there was no discussion of the house renovations. The video of August’s ratification of the budget was even more informative. Yet, I could find no discussion of the $200K, which is real money. It’s two starting teacher salaries plus benefits.
Now, perhaps renovations to the house are no different than fixing issues at Treasure Mountain. Maybe it’s just all part of the facilities budget. Yet, did the board know when they bought the house? Did they sign up for it?
Or perhaps, the district said they would pay up to a million dollars for a house, and then they found something for $870K and just reckoned they had a couple of hundred grand in slush money — even though 870 + 200 is more than 1000.
When I finally email school board member Andrew Caplan, and we have a coffee (as discussed in an earlier story on this topic), he’ll probably have the answer. Yet, the point is that I no longer trust the narrative — even at a basic level. You get burnt in such a bad way, on a story that isn’t true, and you start to question everything.
I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. I hope every detail of the school’s Master Planning proposal is well documented, researched, and defensible. It won’t be enough to say, “isn’t it good for the children?” and “we met for months on this.”
Things in the school district became much harder because of this blunder.