October 9, 2015
As former members of the Park City School Board — having served a combined 12 years on the board — we would like to share our perspective regarding the proposed bond. We served during a multi-year process of building Trailside Elementary, expanding Ecker Hill, and remodeling Treasure Mountain, Jeremy Ranch Elementary and Parley’s Park Elementary schools, and most of all, rebuilding the High School.
The costs were significant and included actual dollars spent and disruption to the students and their teachers. The High School remodel took several years including planning and construction. Cost estimates at the beginning seemed reasonable but after designs were finalized and construction started, they quickly ballooned.
Our board tried to control costs. However, these efforts were only partially successful as we were repeatedly met with demands for larger classrooms, enhanced technology, LEED building standards along with inflationary pressures. Needless to say, construction costs exploded. The High School project eventually ended up with an $8+ million overrun beyond the original bids. This is why we did not spend another $1 million putting rock on the exterior of the High School.
Financially, the district was strong enough to handle the overruns and had the capability of meeting all construction obligations through the use of the capital levy (enjoying the added taxes from the rapidly growing property tax base in the late 1990s and early 2000s). We issued bonds that have now been repaid. Even so, we had to make countless decisions about needs versus wants.
Based on our experience, we think that great caution should be exercised in pursuing any similar projects in the future. The contemplated project involves costs currently estimated to be larger than $66 million! What could the ultimate cost be if typical budget expansion and overruns occur?
Our perspective is that the current process has not been adequate or entirely open. This may due in part to the fact that the current board simply hasn’t been through this process before. The five current board members have, combined, just over 7 years of school board experience — three have been serving less than one year!
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Consider this recent example: we attended one of the recent community meetings where the school district discussed the Master Plan and we saw three school board members present. Having three school board members in attendance was ostensibly a quorum as it relates to the governance and decisions making process for school boards. But this was not a noticed school board meeting and possibly a meeting in violation of the Utah Open Meeting Act. Was it inexperience, or blatant disregard for the Open Meeting Act?
We encourage voters to say NO to the bond, sending the message to the School Board and School District administration that we want a more thorough, open and deliberate process. Our community needs prolonged public conversation before we, as the taxpayers, are asked to finance a project this massive that involves the complete rebuilding of the School District. Don’t be bullied by rhetoric that the district will build whatever they want just by increasing the capital levy.
Your NO vote is a message that more planning and thought is required. From our perspective, we are positive that another year of Master Planning before asking the voters to approve a bond will better serve our community, its students, district employees and taxpayers. During that year, our School Board can more carefully consider the options, discuss the alternatives and figure out how much we should really spend and on what improvements. Vote NO to give the Board a chance to do the right thing.