Our view: Strike while the topic’s still hot | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Strike while the topic’s still hot

At issue

Seizing upon public engagement in the future of Steamboat's school buildings

Our view

Now is the time to attract a cross-section of community members, including business leaders, to forge a more acceptable plan to modernize and expand our schools

We agree with Steamboat Springs School Superintendent Brad Meeks’ post election statement to current and new school board members: There is a need to gather public feedback on the district’s failed $92 million bond issue. However, we don’t concur with his recommendation that the community needs to take a “deep breath” before reaching out to the 70 percent of voters who said “no.”

We need to ask them, while it’s fresh in their minds, why they voted the way they did. And we expect to receive a variety of answers.

We understand school administration officials and board members may be weary from what Meeks described as 18 months of work, but we don’t think the public became fully engaged in the project until much more recently, when it was placed on the ballot.

Several school board members attending a Nov. 4 meeting observed that one of the benefits of the election was that it raised awareness in the community. And newly elected school board member Sameta Rush expressed hope that administrators and existing school board members weren’t discouraged by the vote.

“I want to get some momentum going while there is interest,” she said.

We agree wholeheartedly.

In our view, one of the flaws in the process of advancing the complex plan behind the bond issue is that too many voters became engaged too late in the process. The $92 million would have funded building a new high school in a new location, while remodeling the other school buildings and, at the same time, restructuring the grade levels at the schools. We suspect the re-shuffling of grades and the implications for students was one of the issues that was difficult for voters to understand.

Those voters are engaged, and in some cases, passionate right now. This is the time to ask the broader community what solutions it deems appropriate to meet the future needs of our high-performing public schools.

We don’t think voters necessarily rejected the report of the district’s consulting demographer. He concluded the district is behind the curve in providing additional classrooms at the elementary school level. Now that one plan to address the problem has been thumped at the polls, it’s time to tap into the same energy that rejected the bond issue to move forward with a different plan that can both serve our children well and find favor at the polls.

The last time the school district was faced with the resounding defeat of a bond issue to build a new high school, the school board responded immediately by establishing committees to sift through the ashes. They were tasked with coming up with a very different plan, one that ultimately succeeded because the community and the taxpayers had ownership of it from the beginning.

And still, it took two years to go back to the voters.

This time around, we can’t afford to fail.

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