Our view: A history lesson for school leaders
The $92 million bond issue to build a new high school west of Steamboat was defeated soundly in the polls.
The new school board can learn from their predecessors who served 20 years ago and follow their lead by appointing a true citizens committee to guide planning for the next building proposal.
The defeat of the school bond issue Tuesday made one thing clear — the first order of business for the new Steamboat Springs School Board will involve assessing the reasons behind the bond issue’s failure and creating a new strategy for addressing the district’s problem of overcrowding, which does not go away just because the building proposal failed.
The school district and school board must now find a way to bring together people from both sides of the issue and seek common ground. We believe there is a huge opportunity to build consensus if school leaders will step back, assess the situation, re-evaluate their process and look at the district’s capacity needs with new eyes.
Exactly 20 years ago, the school district stood at the very same crossroads after a $41.8 million bond issue to build a new high school outside of downtown failed by a more than two-to-one margin. School leaders then were able to chart a new course that two years later resulted in overwhelming support for a $24.75 million bond issue that financed remodeling and expansion of the existing high school on Maple Street.
This effort, known as the “10-plus-two” campaign, became a model for other school districts across the state. And it all started with the creation of a committee that included five people from the group opposed to the defeated bond issue and five people from the group in favor of the issue plus the school superintendent and a key business leader who was a principle opponent of the first failed bond measure.
After appointing the right people to serve on the citizens committee, the group began systematically polling voters to determine the factors that led to the bond issue’s failure. This effort was followed by a series of public forums, held off campus and out in the community, to discuss the concerns citizens had about the first bond issue. These forums attracted hundreds of community members, and the discussions eventually produced a solid solution to the district’s need for more space.
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Through this community-minded approach real buy-in was achieved, and on Nov. 4, 1997, Steamboat Springs voters approved the new bond issue proposal for a new high school downtown by an impressive 77 percent to 23 percent.
It’s a smart strategy that worked well then, and we believe it can work now.
This type of sincere community outreach will be necessary to rebuild support in the wake of a divisive election season. The school district and school board must find a way to get the business leaders of Steamboat Springs behind a new bond issue initiative and to involve as many members of the community as possible in the planning process.
We think the best place to start is by appointing a citizens committee to lead the next bond issue planning process. The committee must include community leaders who represent a wide cross-section of the Steamboat Springs community and who have a shared interest in doing what’s best for the local school system and the town.
We realize it’s not realistic to think the district can solve its capacity issues by adding on to existing campuses, and with that in mind, it’s imperative that all potential sites for a new school be thoroughly vetted. District leaders would also be well advised to poll voters to find out what issues led to their rejection of the bond proposal and to get a good gauge of public opinion so they know where to begin building consensus.
There’s a lot of work to be done, and we encourage the newly elected school board to study the history of school bond elections in Steamboat and find a way to involve the greater community in developing a new proposal rather than pursuing a top-down approach.
Voters in Steamboat have a history of saying yes if their questions are answered, if they believe in the project, if they are assured taxpayers money will be spent wisely for the benefit of all students and if they were involved in the process from the beginning.
Let’s hope history repeats itself.
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