Tom Clyde: School issues bring highs and lows of civility
There’s a lot of school news this week. The voters in the South Summit district rejected the $87 million bond to pay for a new high school.
It lost by about a 4% margin. The result was almost identical to the previous election, on an almost identical proposal. I voted for it this time around, but my support was tepid at best.
The need is there. It will get worse, and the school board will have to figure out how to deal with growing numbers of students in already-full buildings.
My biggest doubt about it is the proposed location. The District owns land west of Kamas that was acquired a long time ago with this in mind. But it is a massive intrusion of development into what has always been pasture land.
It feels like the first domino to tip in the process of turning the ranch land of Kamas Valley into Snyderville-style suburbs. That will probably happen anyway with the way things are growing, but the school district doesn’t have to lead the process.
There has to be a better option. The existing campus could be expanded. They could build on what is now the bus barn property; maybe re-route a street to connect it all.
So I’m disappointed from the standpoint that the schools need an expanded capacity, and whatever they do, it will end up costing even more next time around. Schools are fundamental to a community, and I hope the rejection is plan-specific, and not a desire to choke the schools.
A second defeat of the same proposal should force a re-evaluation of the plans. The students aren’t going to go away, so there will surely be another bond proposal. With a different approach, they might end up with enthusiastic support.
Now might be a good time to consider merging Summit County’s three school districts into one. If consolidation doesn’t work – and it’s not without its problems – it’s worth looking at revising the boundaries.
In Wasatch County, voters rejected a $150 million school bond by a wide margin. That proposal was to build a new high school and a replace an older elementary school. They wanted to build a second high school instead of expanding the existing, and nearly new, facility. The reason most often given for that was a desire to keep the high schools small so there are more opportunities for kids to participate in sports and other activities.
Whether you have a high school of a couple of hundred kids or a couple of thousand, there are still only 5 players on the basketball court. Apparently voters didn’t think that was worth $150 million. But the growth pressure in Wasatch County is heavy, and they need more space, too.
The South Summit bond election was a model of how local government should work. The school board did a good job of getting the plan out there and explaining why they were recommending this approach. The issue was clearly and fairly presented, and to the extent there was much discussion about it, the discussion was civil. People knew what they were voting on. The superintendent described the loss as “bittersweet.” At first that seemed odd, but he’s right. A proposal was put in front of a well-informed electorate, and the vote was held. That’s how it’s supposed to work, even if the result isn’t what you wanted. No rocks were thrown through windows.
I don’t understand the Park City School District, and frankly haven’t for a long time. The community seems to get tied up in knots all the time, and capable superintendents are run out of town like timeshare salesmen.
It’s been that way for 40 years. It appears to be an excellent school system. It has an impressive record of meeting both the high expectations of our over-achiever parents and the complicated needs of our immigrant population.
But it can’t operate for more than a couple of years without blowing up.
The latest is the anti-bullying campaign called “Welcoming Schools.” A few parents felt like it was a little too woke. So that is simmering. Then there was the decision to use taxpayer money to install a heated driveway at the house the district bought for the superintendent. I haven’t seen the driveway, and don’t know if it is so steep that heating it is reasonable — in the Park City context. A heated driveway is never reasonable out there in the real world. Maybe they can use it as part of the science curriculum on climate change.
But how we went from anti-bullying and expensive heated driveways to throwing rocks through the window is beyond me. Things are much more civilized in Kamas.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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