After bond setback, Park City School District to begin another round of planning
School officials hope to finally strike success after inability to get projects off the ground
It’s not exactly square one, but the Park City School District is starting over.
A week after the Park City Board of Education voted to not put a bond measure on the ballot this fall after its proposal for an expansion of Park City High School and a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders drew lukewarm support, school officials are preparing for another large-scale planning process.
The district is slated to begin work on a new strategic plan in the coming weeks — with help from the Utah Education Policy Center — to create a comprehensive roadmap for its short-term and long-term goals, out of which a master plan for capital improvements will evolve.
Ember Conley, superintendent of the district, said Monday that the strategic plan will provide more data about things like the district budget, demographics and trends and will also attempt to distill the community’s values and educational beliefs. If done correctly, school officials are hoping the process results in proposals for new facilities that garner the full backing of parents and other residents.
The first step, she added, will be drafting an outline for the process so the community can follow along and feel engaged. A perceived deficiency in that regard is largely responsible for dooming two previous efforts.
“We want the community to really understand where we are in this, so we can get the commitment to be able to pass a bond for buildings,” she said. “… The Board and the administration is so dedicated to that. If this isn’t the plan, help us figure out the plan. If this doesn’t reflect the values, what are we missing?”
It will be the third time in four years the district has begun an intensive planning process. An initial effort to address capacity issues and facility needs started in 2014, but residents overwhelmingly voted down a large bond proposal the following November.
Following that defeat, school leaders pledged to start anew in a push to engage residents and build community consensus on another plan. That effort stalled this summer, when a survey indicated the district would again have a difficult time passing a bond, leading to the Board of Education’s vote to scuttle the effort last week.
This time, school leaders are aiming to solve the problem once and for all. In the meantime, however, the district will continue to grapple with the issues that sparked the planning discussions in the first place. Chief among them is overcrowding that has been exacerbated in recent years amid population growth and successful preschool and all-day kindergarten programs that have begun taking up more space in the elementary schools.
The problem has become so severe, Conley said, that Treasure Mountain Junior High School, McPolin Elementary School and Trailside Elementary School all will utilize portable classrooms this year, while Jeremy Ranch Elementary School is closed to open enrollment.
“We’re managing the growth through doing those things, but I think the community is ready to be part of the solution,” she said.
School leaders had hoped to alleviate the overcrowding by expanding Park City High School and building a new upper elementary school. That would have also allowed the district to accomplish two other long-stated goals of demolishing the outdated Treasure Mountain Junior High and putting sixth-graders back in an elementary school setting. Instead, Treasure Mountain, with aging piping and narrow hallways, will continue to stand, and sixth-graders will remain in Ecker Hill Middle School for the time being.
Some members of the Board of Education have appeared visibly frustrated during meetings that those issues remain unsolved more than three years after the district began taking aim at them. Conley, though, said the lack of progress has not deterred the mission of providing an excellent education to students.
Regardless, she’s hoping this third planning process proves to be the last one the district needs to get a bond passed.
“We’re asking for people to help us solve these issues because we have some issues we need to solve,” she said.
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