Future Facilities: do your homework and talk to the board

As shown by last Monday’s BOE meeting (March 10th), the school district’s Facility Committee has been plugging away at deciding what our future school configuration will look like. They have used feedback and data gathered from “Great Schools Together” (2008), the Dejong-Ricther “engagement” sessions (2012 – early 2013), as well as input from various consultants (ie, BLDD, RPC, Gorski-Reifsteck, etc).

My bet is that most people in the community had no clue this was even going on, much less what they have discussed. At the March 10th BOE meeting, they presented the results of their work to date, three middle-school configurations (or scenarios) chosen from an initial list of 11. At the March 17th BOE meeting, the Committee will again present information to the Board focusing on the “Live/Work” option of the current Central building once the school is relocated to north Neil Street.

What is “Live/Work”? What are the 11 options? What are the final three? Where did they come from? Who is making all these decisions? Your assignment is to try to answer these questions. Here are some hints as to where you might start looking:

There have been numerous articles, columns, editorials and letters to the editor in the News-Gazette. I draw your attention, again, to a Feb 6, 2011 letter by Laurie Reynolds, which describes a path the she sees would be optimal for the school district to follow in planning for a future Central. As you read through it, you can see that the district will readily point out they have followed some of the steps, but there are others that leave a bit of a hole. I believe her last sentence still rings loud and clear with preternatural accuracy:

“But if we continue the discussion along the lines we have followed so far, those options will never be explored, and the ultimate decision on Central will be made with incomplete information and without an understanding of all of the costs that new construction on a remote site will impose on the community.”

In yesterday’s NG, Heather Owen’s letter to the editor asks community members to chime in on the various K-8 options the Facility Committee is considering. Ms. Owen also emailed me directly, as well as emailing the Board with her concerns. I encourage all property tax payers to follow suit – read up on the available documentation and let the Board know what you think about it. Better late than never. I have a bit more to say on this particular topic, but I am closing off a couple other threads and want to present multiple perspectives; I have heard from one board member that takes issue with the letter, and I have another in-progress conversation with administration.

Personally, I was hoping for more community-focused engagement, along the lines of Springfield’s Education Summit and (not or) charrettes used by planners. I have asked the board and the district administration on multiple occasions to think about both of these ideas. What gets me is that Superintendent’s Goals for the District #2 is all about “Community Involved Planning” (also the title of a recent Spotlight video which is not yet available online). It is exceptionally difficult for me to reconcile the progress of decision-making that Unit 4 has taken so far and this particular goal. But perhaps I am cynical and/or naive.

So until I can wrap up my other conversations, I conclude with a recommendation that readers, tax payers and Unit 4 residents get acquainted with the available information and start asking questions. Make plans to attend the March 17th BOE meeting; yes, your speaking time will be limited to 3 minutes and you will not be able to enjoy a back-and-forth dialogue, but this is one of the very few opportunities you currently have to make your voice heard in a public setting.

Do not let other people make up your mind – make up your own mind.

Planning for the future

On Monday, March 10th, the BOE will hold a regular board meeting. According to the Agenda that is posted on boarddocs, it looks like a very short meeting (depending on how long people talk *grin*).

One of the items that caught my attention is the Spotlight Video titled “Community Involved Planning*”. I have asked if this video is available prior to the meeting and at the time of this writing, I have not heard back. Community Involved Planning is crucial for the stakeholders to take ownership of their school district. However, I think the tricky part is 1) we do not have a good sense of what this actually entails, and 2) those that do have a good sense of the work involved might just disagree on how to implement it. My perspective is that community involved planning is tedious, inefficient and downright messy. I say this not to slam such planning, but rather to be realistic and say we need to embrace planning as a whole community despite the challenges before us. I firmly believe the “bang for the buck” is well worth the cost.

*NOTE: “Community Involved Planning” comes straight out of Goal #2 of the District’s Goals. In fact, a number of the recent Spotlight Videos have been highlighting various goals from this page.

Speaking of “bang for the buck”, the sole item under “New Business” is a Quality Learning Environment Outcomes (QLEO) analysis report done by BLDD and the Facilities Committee. Most of the report deals with measuring the “Cost Benefit Ratio” (aka, CBR or “bang for the buck”) of various future school scenarios. For instance, 3 middle schools versus 4 with some variation of one or more K-8 schools. Or how to repurpose the building that currently houses Central once Central moves. I give props for folks thinking a little outside the box to come up with “Live/Work” ideas for the building – it sounds like crazy stuff! 🙂 Essentially, the Facilities Committee has whittled down a list of about 20 scenario options down to their favorite three; two involving three middle schools and a K-8, one with four middle schools. The high school options all pretty much stay the same. The “Lifecycle costs” of these options are going to blow your mind.

Also, as of this moment, the BLDD presentation shows that the high schools will have a capacity for 1500 students, but we really need a total of 3207 by 2022, and DeJong-Richter originally called for 1600 students at each high school. Odd. Matt Foster says he is looking into it.

And now we circle back to “community involved planning”. Recently, the one big push for “community involvement” was via DeJong-Richter. Prior to that, Great Schools Together. Both efforts had various levels of success (which varies widely depending on whom you talk to). It makes me very curious what this video is going to say. What is hard for me to determine is what our community really needs. I have my own thoughts (ie, we need a TON more involvement), and I have talked with a number of folks, some who agree and some who disagree (saying the district has tried, and in fact will continue to try, to get community involvement). On that note, Pattsi sent me a link about the “informed city” (which took place on March 4th) as a build-up to United Nations Habitat World Urban Forum; fascinating ideas, but I am left with “so what are the action steps?” What comes out of all this awesome dialogue and interaction?

For those interested, the only two documents available at the Facility Committee website are two meeting minutes, which give a little bit of an idea how the Committee debated various options over the last few months in 2013: