Guest opinion: School board needs a new voice and a new direction
Former Park City Board of Education member
As the Park City School District Board of Education president to serve immediately before Andrew Caplan, I feel a civic duty to address public misconceptions, the current board’s misrepresentations of fact, and why I highly recommend everyone in District 2 (Highland Estates East and West, Park Meadows North, Ranch Place, Snyder’s Mill) write in Thomas Cooke to represent you for the next four years.
For starters, the suggestion that the current board has significantly advanced the master planning process is false. Moving ninth grade to the high school, moving eighth grade to Ecker, taking Treasure Mountain down and growing early childhood education have been priorities of the district since before 2017. What the new board has accomplished is hiring/firing/hiring costly consultants to arrive at much the same place.
The current board lacks the master planning expertise required to effectively address various capital projects the district will undertake in the coming years. On the other hand as a planning commissioner, Cooke demonstrates tremendous depth of knowledge in development projects while cultivating key relationships throughout Summit County. Building new schools will require coordination with the city and county as we address traffic and other community issues that are part of the big picture. Current board leadership has made more enemies than friends, and Caplan’s “my way or the highway” attitude is going to further jeopardize the process.
Also problematic is the fact that only one unified voice ever emanates from the board, and every vote is 5-0. A healthy board has varying opinions and doesn’t agree on everything. Any board member who dared dissent in recent years has been bullied off the board. This is evidenced by the highest turnover of school board members PCSD has seen in the two decades I’ve lived here. Adding insult to injury, current school board members have been hand selected as replacements for members run off the board and are now campaigning for the president that chose them. This is inappropriate, as the public should decide their candidate for a public board. Period.
The financial situation of the district is also concerning. In a strong economy with relatively flat student growth, the sitting board has increased operational expenditures by more than $20 million. They have also spent down much of the rainy-day fund. While some of these increases relate to teacher salaries, there have also been significant increases to district office administration. And yet, in the middle of a pandemic, they decided to terminate the chief communications position as a matter of “budget.” It sure would have been handy to have a healthy rainy-day fund to possibly fund teacher hazard pay during these stressful times.
We’ve seen huge increases in residential property taxes in the last two years, but we haven’t passed a bond yet, and there are a record number of trailers at each school. And while the board continues to strain its relationship with the taxpaying public, it voted unanimously to establish a bond authority, thereby enabling itself to assess bonds against the community without a vote.
Lastly, the board’s letter (signed by all members) to PCSD staff on Aug. 24 is deeply troubling. It was threatening in tone and in direct conflict with board governance that clearly provides individual staff the right to communicate directly in addressing grievances with the board. A publicly elected school board should maintain a supportive relationship with teachers, NOT an adversarial one.
We need to reign in the current board, start watching the bottom line and establish a dialogue that reflects and respects the entire community, not merely the personal agenda of one member.
Write in Thomas Cooke for Park City Board of Education District 2.
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