Andrew Heppelmann: ‘Better documentation on decision making’
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
An area the Steamboat Springs School Board needs to improve is their decision-making process. One of the main reasons I’m running for
School Board is my desire for better documentation surrounding controversial decisions.
We all use some sort of a process when we make decisions, but codifying and documenting the process provides rigor that allows it to be more deliberate. Critical to the process is first understanding what the problem is that we’re trying to fix. Once the problem is clearly defined, the next step is to gather and examine the facts and assumptions associated with the problem.
Facts and assumptions are critical because they drive you to a logical and defendable solution. Assumptions are typically the most contentious, as they are, at best, a reasonable guess at future trends. Then, two or three distinctive solutions are developed and analyzed to determine what best fits with priorities and budget.
This documented decision making can serve as compelling proof that the recommended solution is in fact the right one. It also shows that you considered alternate choices and the reason you preferred the solution that you recommended.
As an example of how important facts and assumption are, I would offer the decision to add a new school to the district rather than just spend $30 million for existing facility improvements to achieve modest expansion. I think much of this debate focuses on demographics. Fundamental to the discussion are questions like: Are we overcrowded now? (I think yes). Will it get worse? If so, how quickly? (The heart of the question).
We have a city tax to spur affordable housing, with each two- or three-bedroom unit likely to yield some student growth. We also have hundreds of other units in the planning pipeline, each with a certain probability of completion within the next five to 10 years — some with a probability approaching zero chance and others that have broken ground.
What will they yield in numbers of units and at what price point? How likely is it that a family with children can afford to move in? Construction seems to clearly indicate that our school age demographic will grow.
However, the other side of the coin is that birth rates are declining. The district has almost 100 less students today than we had in 2015. Birth rates tell us that we will likely continue to see this through the 2019 cohort. Census data says that between 2010 and 2017, there was a decline of 602 households (-27%) headed by 25- to 44-year-olds. At the same time, the number of age 65-plus households grew by 345, or 68%. Clearly, we are getting older.
I don’t know what the answer to these two competing factors is, but I do feel it would serve as a compelling argument one way or another regarding a new school. The latest demographics report sheds little light on the subject since they won’t disclose methodology.
Perhaps the district will continue to trend smaller, and the $30 million facilities improvement will be sufficient. What is the risk if we take this incremental approach? Perhaps all these projects in the planning process mean we must build a new school. If we don’t build now, will we be caught by surprise later?
I need this information, so that I can make an informed decision before I vote. As a voter, you deserve this information as well. If I’m elected to the School Board, my pledge is that I will not ask you to pay for things until I can provide this kind of analysis, along with the facts and assumptions that drove me to my conclusions.
Andrew Heppelmann is a candidate for a two-year term on the Steamboat Springs School Board.
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