After bond defeat, Park City School District tries for community consensus
The Park City School District is going back to square one.
In the wake of its $56 million bond proposal residents voted down in November, the district is diving back into master planning. Phil Kaplan, a member of the Park City Board of Education, said the district is not throwing out the work its master-planning committee did over the last year, but is reopening the process to gather more community input.
The goal is to reach some form of a true community consensus about the best way to tackle the problems facing the district, he said.
"The election opened up a much larger community conversation about academics and priorities for the district," he said. "So we’re going to use this to really look at what we’re doing and try to make sure that we’re in better alignment with community needs and update our overall strategy and plan."
One of the first steps is already underway. The district commissioned a Salt Lake City-based firm to conduct a telephone survey to ask residents what they supported in the bond, what they didn’t, and why they voted the way they did. Kaplan said the survey began last week and that the Board hopes to have the results at its Jan. 12 meeting.
"We’re hoping to get a sense, specifically with respect to facilities, about what are some things we can seize on to try to move forward with these needs that we still have," he said.
The district was hoping to complete the following projects with the money from the bond and capital reserves: Park City High School expansion and gym remodel; a new fifth- and sixth-grade school at Ecker Hill campus; improvements to McPolin Elementary School, including moving the parking lot; demolition of Treasure Mountain Junior High; athletic facilities improvements.
Kaplan said the needs the projects would have addressed remain. But the Board is hoping to garner broad community support — something it didn’t have in November — for its next plan. While most residents supported certain aspects of the previous proposal, such as expanding Park City High School and demolishing Treasure Mountain Junior High, other elements proved more controversial.
The Board hopes reopening the master-planning process will allow a consensus to form around elements such as which direction to expand the high school, the location of the fifth- and sixth-grade school and how much money to invest in athletic facilities, Kaplan said.
The district, again in the early stages of master planning, has not decided on a timeline for finalizing a new plan, but Kaplan said another bond election, either in 2016 or 2017, might make a lot of sense.
"This is just one Board member’s opinion, but I feel very strongly that it has to be a bond," he said. "It’s a lot of work, but we need to go back and do it right. We need to get input and support from the leaders of the community and make sure there is wide support for what we do, and then move it forward."
Kaplan added that he has met since the election with those who led the anti-bond campaign called Citizens for Better Education and that those talks have been productive. He said people in the community seem invested in coming up with solutions that most residents can support.
"A lot of good will come out of our pain, if you will," he said. "A lot of good will come out of the fact this thing didn’t pass. We’re going to turn it into being able to put out a much better product on all fronts."
A Park City High School senior facing 18 criminal charges admitted to releasing pepper spray in the school’s lecture hall last month to prevent a conservative school club from hosting an event.