Sides spar in PCSD bond debate as Election Day nears
October 16, 2015
After months of debate about the $56 million Park City School District bond, residents this week at last got to see representatives from the two sides of the issue spar in a true back-and-forth discussion.
At a St. Luke’s Episcopal Church’s Project for Deeper Understanding panel held Tuesday regarding the bond, the two sides battled about whether the bond is what’s best for Park City students. Residents Ali Ziesler and Joe Cronley represented the opposition, while Moe Hickey, a former Board of Education member, and Katherine Hoggan voiced their support for it. Park City School Board members Tania Knauer and Phil Kaplan also took part in the event, providing a presentation before the moderated discussion.
One of the crucial themes of the evening was whether the bond truly needs to on the ballot this November. The district has repeatedly insisted that getting it passed this year is crucial so it can begin work on several projects that are necessary to keep up with enrollment. Hickey reiterated that point Tuesday, adding that interest rates for a bond will likely never be lower.
But Cronley said that interest rates shouldn’t be a driving factor behind pushing the bond. He would prefer to see the proposition taken off the current ballot and undergo a more rigorous evaluation process, with more involvement from the community and other government entities. While that could mean students at some schools would spend next year in portable classrooms, he said more discussion would likely reveal better, cheaper options.
"Even if it costs more, let’s get some better ideas out there," he said.
Hickey countered that the district’s master planning committee gathered twice a week for several months, and that he could not recall a local government committee that met for as many hours on a single topic. He said the process allowed for the best ideas to be vetted and to rise to the top.
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"This plan meets the needs of our students presently and going forward," he said.
The bond would help fund a $66 million project list that includes: Park City High School expansion and gym remodel ($27.5 million); a new fifth- and sixth-grade school at Ecker Hill campus ($24.8 million); improvements to McPolin Elementary School, including moving the parking lot ($1.4 million); demolition of Treasure Mountain Junior High ($606,336 — none from the bond); athletic facilities improvements ($12 million).
If passed, the 20-year bond would cost homeowners of an average primary residence valued at $639,000 a total of $123 a year, or roughly $19.25 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.
The proposed fifth- and sixth-grade school at the site of Ecker Hill Middle School — which would share some facilities with the existing Ecker Hill school, such as the kitchen and auditorium — was another key topic of debate. moving fifth-graders to the new school, it would clear up space in the four elementary schools to help solve capacity issues. Hoggan noted that it would also eliminate one transition to a new school for students, which studies say could lower the drop-out rate.
But Ziesler said many are worried that the four-grade Ecker Hill campus would be transformed into essentially the largest middle school in the state, at a time when many places in the country are shifting to smaller neighborhood schools for quality of life and safety reasons.
Many opposing the bond instead favor building another middle school in Park City proper — perhaps on the site of Treasure Mountain Junior High, which is slated for demolition — Ziesler said. That school and Ecker Hill Middle School could house the same three or four grades. It would let middle school kids in the Basin and in Park City proper to attend schools near their homes, while still allowing the district to move ninth-graders into Park City High School.
Hoggan countered that a two-middle school system would foster unhealthy competition between the schools, while Hickey added that the setup would be more costly to operate on a yearly basis.
The potential relocation of Dozier Field to the present site of Treasure Mountain Junior High, where it could be joined by an indoor athletic field house, was also a thorny issue Tuesday. The sides disagreed vehemently about the extent of the improvements proposed for Park City High School’s athletic facilities.
Cronley, who voiced support for the junior high being torn down, said that he nevertheless is concerned about an academic facility being replaced by an athletic one. He would prefer the district partner with the city, county and Basin Recreation to find a solution for improved athletic facilities that doesn’t rely on such a heavy taxpayer investment.
Ziesler believes the athletic facility improvements were included in the bond simply as a way to garner support from the sports-centric population.
"This is simply a way to get us to say yes to a bond that still has a lot of unknowns," she said.
Hoggan said athletics are an important part of creating well-rounded students and that participation in sports is linked to better academic achievement. Hickey added that the marching band, theater and arts programs could also utilize the field house, among other academic uses.
Early voting on the bond begins Tuesday, Oct. 20, in advance of Election Day on Nov. 3. All registered residents within Park City School District boundaries are eligible to vote. Early voting will be held at the Marsac Building and Sheldon Richins Building, from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. each day.
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