Saturday, March 17, 2007

School's Back; Form, Function and Finance

Spring break is over, time to get back to school. By the way, Monday 3/19, the school board agenda kicks off with a presentation of the ethical and legal limits on just how the board can spend our money to “educate” us silly voters into approving the bonds on the table.

The decision to split the bond into two ballot measures was made for one reason only: The board fears the issue in its entirety would fail. I am less than enthusiastic about the extent to which the Long Range Facilities Plan, which includes this bond and the next two, depends on new construction. Still, the elementary construction in May's bond is more justifiable, not to mention affordable, than the megabuck Central loosely envisioned.

The board is counting on the work, and it was a long effort, by the Facilities Advisory Task Force to convince voters the community has been consulted in the planning. I can't help but be reminded of Mark Twain's observation that “a camel was a horse designed by a committee”. I have my doubts whether all options were fully considered.

In recent editorial comments to the Standard-Times, two writers, both prominent members of the community, have referred to the current Central as “ready for the scrap yard” and the other, “pretty” and “park-like”. Hard to believe both are discussing the same physical plant. I am waiting for SAISD to have at least a couple weekends of “open house” at the schools named in the Long Range Plan and let the voters get a first hand look.

An earlier post referenced a brochure [here] we found that bragged on Central as “America's First Ageless, Campus Style High School”. It makes clear the original design was intended for adaptability and with proper maintenance, a long life. It just happens I was watching a story on Philadelphia's misuse of eminent domain this AM. People there were scrapping to the last dime and final legal appeal to stay in buildings so old that my Dad was a gleam in Grandad's eye when they were built. I am familiar with some of the buildings slated for demolition. My opinion, we have an upkeep crisis more than we need new buildings to serve a declining enrollment. Coincidentally, Midland is pushing a bond issue this year [here] at a price tag of $37 million, athletic improvements separated from classrooms. Superintendent Perez says “you are looking at something for the next 50 years”. Midland plans to add to and renovate schools, not tear them down, and Midland has growth and oil money we do not.

One point I made at the Saturday board meeting was that if the high school ballot fails, the board should listen to the voters, fall back, trim down and come up with an issue that might pass in November. A “NO” vote in May will not condemn students to an eternity of poor education. One message we might get across is that the board desperately needs a built-in capital improvement plan, something the city is finally getting going, so that we do not lurch along between bonds, spending too little maintaining what we have until suddenly we the taxpayers are presented with a “crisis”. The May ballot is a fine opportunity for us to pass this message to the board and see how it reacts.

I contest a couple of selling points. One is the grade realignment plan. One of the first times I stood to address a public meeting, Wake County, NC where I was in ninth grade, was considering shifting 9th grade to middle school, which I didn't like then. I have kept an interest in the subject since, and honestly, I don't find a scrap of evidence that tinkering with grade alignment a year's worth about the edges has any demonstrable effect one way or the other. It is a matter of fashion, not academic science. As to spending money for bricks and mortar to implement one alignment over another, put the effort into curriculum and teachers, no building ever taught anyone anything. Well, maybe taught taxpayers that new buildings ain't cheap. It is reported that Socrates made do with a shadetree, though I am not quite old enough to personally vouch for that.

I see no evidence that alternative high school ideas were seriously entertained. The idea of making Central and Lakeview roughly equal sized schools, or the notion of a third southwest high school with three roughly equal sized, smaller student bodies, these possibilities never seem to have been on the radar screen. The phrasing of the SAISD “Bond Awareness Survey” questions makes clear that keeping a single 5A high school was a major priority.

As Frank Lloyd Wright put it, form should follow function, not fashion, and at this level of finance, I fully agree.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if you have ever had to call one of the schools for any information or help? Seems we have too many people working in admin at the school level who are never at thier desks. I wonder why there is no one resposible for these people and the hours they don't work.