Park City School District grapples with bond decision as deadline nears
School board must choose whether to push forward with effort amid tepid support
July 25, 2017
As the deadline to make a final decision looms, the Park City Board of Education continues to contemplate whether to put a large bond measure on the ballot this fall after a survey indicated school leaders may have a difficult time rallying enough support to get it passed.
The topic was the highlight of a special public meeting last week that was called in large part so the board could continue discussing the effort's future. To include a measure in November's election, the board must vote to do so by the middle of next month.
The potential bond, which does not yet have a price tag but could cost upwards of $100 million, would pay for an expansion of Park City High School so it can accommodate ninth-graders under a realigned grade structure, as well as a new upper elementary school. School leaders have long viewed both projects as critical components of the district's future, but the bond has drawn tepid backing from the public.
A major concern for the board is an information chasm between the district and the community that has made it difficult at times for school officials to get their message out and has hindered the push to gain broad support for their plan. Board members seemed to agree that they must do a better job of informing the public about the potential bond — not only about what it would comprise, but why and how the important decisions surrounding it were made.
Anne Peters, who is new to the board, said in the meeting that the district must work hard to take feedback from residents and make it clear that school leaders are taking their concerns to heart.
"It's not like, 'Thanks, but we're not going to do anything about it,'" she said. "It's, 'We heard you loud and clear, and this is going to inform what we as a board are going to work on for the next two years, and it's going to inform (Superintendent Ember Conley's) goals.'"
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The reality that the bond may be a tough sell came into focus last month, when the results of a survey the district commissioned showed narrow margins of support for it.
A representative from the firm that conducted the survey, Y2 Analytics, said in a June public school board meeting that the district would face an uphill battle to get a bond measure passed this fall. Reshaping public opinion would likely take many months of a concerted outreach campaign.
Earlier this year, the board signaled its intent to move forward with a bond election this fall, but the survey results gave school officials pause, with Conley even suggesting that putting it on the ballot in November could be a mistake that sets the district back several years. The alternative that seems most likely would be delaying the bond until 2018.
The public's lukewarm view of the district's effort is largely due to the lingering effects of a similar bond campaign in 2015 that divided the community and ultimately failed. School leaders worked in the aftermath to heal the rifts — to success on some fronts — but district consultants say residents, even as they understand the need for the projects the measure would fund, continue to be skeptical of the school board.
"(The survey) is a measurement of people's perceptions," Conley said at last week's meeting.
In an attempt to overcome that roadblock, the school board intends to embark on a listening tour throughout the community aimed at establishing better two-way communication between the district and residents. Details about the tour will be released in the coming weeks.
"We all know what we have to do between now and getting a bond passed," said Andrew Caplan, another board member. "It's going to take more time, in my perspective, than what we have between now and August."
Molly Miller, a district spokeswoman, said in an email that the board may vote on the bond's future in a meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 1, but more likely will make the final decision Aug. 15.