Park City school board votes to delay bond measure until at least 2018
Decision comes after survey revealed lukewarm community support
August 1, 2017
Another school bond, once seemingly a lock for a November vote, will have to wait at least another year.
On Tuesday, the Park City Board of Education voted not to put a measure on this fall's ballot, leaving the date for a future initiative open ended, reversing course after months of preparing to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for an expansion of Park City High School and a new school for fifth- and sixth-graders.
The vote was 4-1, with Julie Eihausen, president of the board, the lone voice in favor of bonding this fall.
The decision was an extraordinary turnaround just months after the board signaled its intent to go to bond in November, taking important steps including choosing a design for an expanded high school and beginning the planning for a new upper elementary school.
The tenor of the process changed in June, however, when the district received the results of a survey indicating the effort was drawing narrow margins of support and that garnering enough votes for a bond to pass would be difficult.
That analysis was a blow for a district that has been working toward passing a bond since 2014 — including a measure that failed in 2015 — to address increasingly dire capacity needs that have several schools bursting at the seams. Previously, the board indicated that if a bond failed this fall, it would instead raise taxes dramatically to fund the capital projects. But the majority of the board seemed resigned Tuesday to the fact that there is little community consensus surrounding the proposal and that another campaign loss could be a devastating setback for the district and its ability to deliver a top-notch education to students.
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Given the moderate support for a bond, several school leaders have indicated that they must do more to collaborate with constituents, reach out to residents and ensure the community feels heard throughout the planning processes for major projects. Board members have talked about building community consensus since before voters rejected the 2015 measure but have seemingly made only incremental progress in that respect.
"I think we need to be cognizant of the community’s input and their opinions," said board member Andrew Caplan. "We need to remember it’s the community’s schools and we have to get them on board."
Eihausen, however, vocalized her frustrations with delaying the bond for at least one more year because she believes passing it is clearly the best thing to do for students. She said she was skeptical of the results of the survey because it was administered before the district checked off a number of positive goals this spring, including passing another balanced budget and approving significant raises for teachers, administrators and classified employees.
She added that, contrary to the perception of some, the board has been transparent and inclusive since it first began planning major capital projects in 2014.
"We are four years into this process and we still are arguing," she said, "and we have children in our schools that are having to have lunch at 10, 10:15 in the morning or at 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon because we can't handle the amount of students in our classrooms."
Before the vote, the board delivered a PowerPoint presentation aimed at making clear it understands the community's frustration with the process, which has dragged on since 2014 in various forms. The presentation acknowledged that many constituents have "bond fatigue," while reiterating that not going to bond means significant problems will remain unaddressed within the district, including overcrowding and the need to get ninth-graders into the high school and get rid of the aging Treasure Mountain Junior High School.
With that in mind, the board said it will begin a new strategic-planning process this month, out of which a new master plan will eventually evolve. That will be coupled with a "listening tour" designed to get school officials into the community and talking with residents about their concerns.
The district did not release additional details Tuesday about either effort.